Storm skipper Cameron Smith will return from a back injury. Image courtesy of heraldsun.com.au
Melbourne Storm v Gold Coast Titans
Sunday, April 6 – 2.05pm AEST)
AAMI Park, Melbourne
Gold Coast: WWLW
Things you need to know:
The Storm have never lost to the Titans at AAMI Park in three clashes there, but the Gold Coast boys came closest to pinching a win in enemy territory in Round 26 last year. The Titans were edged 23-22, having previously got the better of Craig Bellamy's side 18-12 at home in Round 15.
Melbourne lost nine games in 2013 - with eight of those coming in pairs. Titans coach John Cartwright will be all too aware that his side has a brilliant chance to capitalise on a flat Storm, who were pummelled in Perth by Canterbury-Bankstown.
Cam Smith (back spasms) is set to return after being a late withdrawal against the Bulldogs, while Jordan McLean will miss seven weeks after he was suspended for his part in the tackle that seriously injured Newcastle's Alex McKinnon in Round 3. Storm could yet appeal the judiciary's decision. Matt Duffie (ACL) is out for the season, while Justin O'Neill (knee) is still 2-3 weeks away. Felise Kaufusi (pectoral) should be available next week for the Storm's hosting of St George/Illawarra. Hymel Hunt (ankle) and Junior Moors (knee) are pencilled in to be fit a week later, for Storm's Round 7 trip to take on the Canberra Raiders.
The Titans should welcome back Will Zillman (hamstring) and Matt Srama (shoulder) for their trip to Melbourne, after their 13-12 victory over state rivals the North Queensland Cowboys on Monday night.
Reason to watch:
The two sides going head-to-head are 3-1, and can set themselves firmly at the top of the bunched ladder with another victory. The 12th-placed Parramatta Eels are just a win off top spot, meaning any two points picked up will be crucial. That the Titans came so close to knocking off the Storm on their own paddock so recently must give them plenty of confidence to go the extra mile on Sunday.
The Storm, meanwhile, will be bitterly disappointed with the Perth showing, as their hot start in WA was then offset by conceding seven unanswered tries. Bellamy will have no doubt put a rocket up his men, and they will be aggressive early as they look to get back to winning ways.
Reason to turn away:
Handling errors troubled both the Cowboys and Titans on Monday night in humid conditions at Cbus Super Stadium, with the latter committing 12 mistakes. The Titans also missed 35 tackles, and certainly cannot afford to do the same against the Storm, or risk conceding easy points.
The Storm have their own defensive queries too, missing 39 tackles against the Bulldogs in uncharacteristic fashion. Melbourne's left side of defence has been a query for them this season, and could be the Titans' way in to the try zone.
"Unfortunately, Cam just woke up with a little bit of a stiff back, and it wasn't too bad through the morning. But as we got to warm-up, it jammed up, and we worked feverishly to try and get him right, but we didn't think it was worth the risk. He probably could have played, but given it's Round 4, we had a long trip back, we had a long trip over there, and given his age – sorry Cam – all those sort of factors contributed," Storm physio Tony Ayoub said of Smith's late withdrawal against the Bulldogs.
The Titans did not show enough on Monday night to suggest they can travel to Melbourne and win well. Weirder things have happened though - especially this season - as so many underdogs have managed to walk taller a week after a below-par performance. It speaks volumes about the Gold Coast that they could win ugly, and while they will likely fall short on Sunday, a valiant loss would not dent their confidence too much. With steady-handed skipper Smith back in the side, the hosts should be too strong. Storm by six points.
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