Round 21: Storm v Titans preview
Gold Coast look for an upset of Titanic proportions against Storm
A real David and Goliath battle will see the Melbourne Storm take on the Gold Coast Titans to kick off Friday Night Football in Round 21 of the NRL Telstra Premiership. This match has a surprising number of implications for both sides as they fight their own battles at either end of the competition table.
Melbourne have a rocky July which has resulted in an up and down preparation for the semi finals which kick off in five weeks' time. There's no doubting that the injury gods have cruelled the Storm this season, especially in the back-line, which hasn't been helped with the horror injury sustained by Nick Meaney last weekend in a horror fall trying to take a bomb. It makes the mid-season loan of David Nofoaluma all the more important for their run into the finals.
Even with their losing streak broken last week, the Storm's performance wasn't all that convincing and was incredibly ill-disciplined against a Warriors side that's been notoriously inconsistent this season. Nelson Asofa-Solomona and Josh King were lucky to escape the wrath of the match review committee's wheel of discipline for their conduct last weekend. One thing that did concern me covering the live updates for the Storm, was their right hand defence, Grant Anderson and Marion Seve seemed to be lacking critical communication that allowed Edward Kosi to bag a hattrick. That being said, Jahrome Hughes and Harry Grant showed their star quality when they needed to, guiding their troops to a much needed win to provide some stability on the eve of the semis. On the team front, Tyran Wishart starts at fullback, new signing David Nofoaluma is on the wing, with Grant Anderson shifting to centre to cover the absence of Justin Olam who has contracted COVID. Brandon Smith returns on the bench following his three week suspension for abusing a match official.
There hasn't been a more disappointing side in 2022 than the Gold Coast Titans, with the expectations to improve on their finals appearance last season. But there's a lot of pride and positions next season up for grabs in the next few matches and it starts with an improved showing against a Storm side looking for a top 4 spot. You also have a feeling that the Titans are playing for Justin Holbrook's future in the next few weeks, their efforts in the run into the end of the season will show how much they want him to stay around.
Last weekend was another one of those games where the Titans were in for 60 minutes but had a 20 minute fade out that cost them a chance of victory. The last season switcharoo which has seen Aaron Booth play at hooker was worked wonders, with the service out of the hooker position being a marked improvement. Also, the emergence of Erin Clark as a hard running middle forward is a good sign moving forward as well as the consistency of Tino Fa'asuamaleaui and his character building as a leader. However, their edge defence remains of big concern and up against a Storm side who are better than anyone at exposing edge defenders. It could be a long evening for the Titans faithful in Melbourne. For the visitors, Jayden Campbell returns at the back with AJ Brimson and Tanah Boyd in the halves with Toby Sexton dropped. Greg Marzhew is the new face on the bench.
Who to watch: Well Melbourne have gone to their third fullback in as many weeks with Tyran Wishart manning the helm at the back. It's been a challenging rookie season for the young man, spanning many positions as injuries and his vast versatility have seen him jump around many a position. Wishart has a strong running game and a clever passing game and if Bellamy can get the best out of him in this role, then Melbourne could continue their run into the finals but it has to start with a strong showing against a Titans side with nothing to lose.
In what's been a challenging season for the boys from Surfers Paradise, Tanah Boyd has really come on the scene in the last few weeks. Having played all season as the back-up hooker, Boyd's move to 5/8 has come at a critical point and has been a driving force behind their improved attack as of late. Since his move to the halves, Boyd has crossed for two tries and been an effective playmaker. With a good short kicking game, look for Boyd to expose some of the defensive inefficiencies of the Storm with some clever grubbers in behind the defence.
The favourite: Melbourne are hot favourites to continue their form resurgence. This is remarkably Justin Holbrook's first trip to AAMI Park as a head coach, with their matches against Melbourne being relocated in recent seasons to the Sunshine Coast. Gold Coast's record at AAMI Park is appalling only winning their once, which came off a Greg Bird penalty goal in 2014.
My tip: This one's a no brainer for me. As much as I want the Titans to succeed and save the coaching career of Justin Holbrook, I just can't see the Titans overturning their horror defensive record. With Tino returning to where he started his career, there could be some early fireworks. But with the Storm looking to cement their place inside the top 4, they'll have just a bit too much class to get home in this one. Storm by 16.