Round 13: Storm v Titans preview
Origin presents opportunity for undermanned Storm, Titans
The Melbourne Storm will return ‘home' to Sunshine Coast Stadium on Saturday evening to take on the Gold Coast Titans without their Origin stars.
Forced to relocate the match from AAMI Park, in part due to the Federal Government's ‘Hare and the Tortoise' approach to rolling out the COVID-19 vaccine, the Melbourne Storm will have the people of Victoria in their minds as they strive to continue an unbeaten record at Sunshine Coast Stadium.
Winning all six matches at their makeshift home after taking up residence midway through last season, coach Craig Bellamy will be hoping his team can maintain a dominant record against the Titans that has yielded 16 wins from 22 previous clashes. Set to be without Josh Addo-Carr, Cameron Munster, Harry Grant, Christian Welch and Felise Kaufusi due to Origin, the revamped squad will see Dean Ieremia gain a rare opportunity in the top grade alongside returning forward Kenny Bromwich.
Holding a below average record of 13 wins from 29 Origin-affected fixtures during Bellamy's tenure as coach, the Storm will be aiming to post ten consecutive wins for the first time since surging to the premiership in 2017.
Coming off a disastrous showing during Indigenous Round, the Gold Coast Titans will need to put aside excuses if they hope to bounce back with an upset.
Suffering an embarrassing 38-10 defeat to the Sharks in Coffs Harbour last Sunday, coach Justin Holbrook has been forced to make a raft of changes due to a high representation in the Queensland Origin squad.
Unable to call upon AJ Brimson, Tino Fa'asuamaleaui, David Fifita and Moeaki Fotuaika for the crucial encounter, Ashley Taylor, Sam Stone, Jai Whitbread and club debutant Joseph Vuna come into the side, while Jayden Campbell will create history by following in the footsteps of his father, Preston, in becoming the first legacy player with the club.
Winning two of their three previous meetings against the Storm in Origin-affected fixtures, the Titans last won a match impacted by Origin in 2016 despite holding an above average overall record of 10 wins from 19 matches.
Last meeting: Round 10 2020 - Storm 42 Titans 6
Who to watch: Having developed into an international and premiership-winning halfback under the tutelage of Craig Bellamy, it can be easy to forget that Jahrome Hughes began his first grade career with the Titans. Playing one game with the Gold Coast as a teenager in 2013 before making his way south via an unremarkable stint in North Queensland, the 26-year-old has grown to become a focal point of Melbourne's attack with 10 try assists, seven forced drop outs and five tries in 11 appearances this season. Possessing the instinct to run the ball having come through the rank as a fullback, Hughes will need to step up in the absence of wounded and representative stars if the Storm hope to extend their unbeaten record on the Sunshine Coast.
Having shown themselves incapable of winning matches through their defence so far this season, the Titans will need Jamal Fogarty to play with an attacking mindset if they have any ambition of pulling off an upset. Standing as one of the few attacking sparks left in the Titans' ranks, the 27-year-old Beaudesert junior has performed confidently over the opening half of the season with six try assists, four forced drop outs and an 87 per cent conversion rate. Tasked with one of the biggest challenges of his well-travelled career, Fogarty's kicking game will also need to be on point in order to limit the Storm's ability with the ball.
The favourite: Despite missing a host of stars through Origin, injury and suspension, Melbourne's ‘next man up' mentality has them installed as overwhelming favourites.
My tip: While the start to life after Cameron Smith presented teething problems, the Storm have been able to string together nine straight wins all while dealing the challenges of key players being unavailable. Melbourne by 16.