AFTER ‘winning ugly’ three times in the first four rounds, the iSelect Gold Coast Titans prettied up their attack – almost too much – in a heart-stopping 28-26 victory over the Storm in Melbourne today. They now stand alone at the top of the ladder going into Friday’s derby clash with then Brisbane Broncos.
A penalty goal from co-skipper Greg Bird (deputising for the injured Aidan Sezer), in the final minute saved the match going into golden-point after the Titans scored five tries to four.
The penalty came after the referee ruled a strip by Ryan Hinchcliffe on Luke Douglas, a decision Storm coach Craig Bellamy hotly denied. However a Storm try came from a ‘double-pump’ pass from Cooper Cronk to Jesse Bromwich that appeared to be slightly forward.
But the game was more about the tremendous defence and courage of the Titans, typified by no one more than fullback David Mead who came up with some crucial plays – one running the ball out from the in-goal when Melbourne were building pressure, another time when he spectacularly fielded a bomb but landed awkwardly and looked to have been badly injured and a spectacular try when he beat Cronk in the air from an Anthony Don cross kick on the last tackle.
And the side played for 65 minutes without centre Brad Tighe who injured his right shoulder AC joint when scoring the Titans’ second try. That required second-rower Dave Taylor spending three-quarters of the match at left centre and having to handle much of the Storm’s attack coming his way. From then three key players – Tighe, Sezer and William Zillman were missing from the regular backline.
Maurice Blair, a late replacement for Sezer at five-eighth, was another fine performer, playing a role in two of the Titans’ five tries and kicking and defending well. Winger Don was an unsung hero despite setting up a try and saving another; co-captains Bird and Myles were inspirational, lock Ashley Harrison absolutely tireless and Albert Kelly, who hurt his leg in the first half but battled on and saw a lot of attack aimed at him, responded with a brilliant intercept try that saw him snatch the ball from Storm five-eighth Ben Hampton and run 50 metres to score.
The physical intent if the whole pack was tremendous, from the front row through.
Melbourne scored two first-half tries from pinpoint cross field kicks from Cronk to right winger Sisa Waqa. In between his opposing winger Kevin Gordon had his revenge after Myles had run away after scooping up a Storm dropped ball but was brought down a metre short. After a tap kick from a penalty from the play-the-ball, two rucks later the ball swept to the left to give Gordon enough space to make it to the left corner.
Only three minutes later Brad Tighe scored on the left after Blair kicked on the last tackle and Gordon brilliantly beat Billy Slater in the air and snatched the ball. As he went to ground he threw a wonderful ball to Blair who found Tighe who was too quick for the cover, giving the Titans an 8-6.
Mead scored his spectacular try on the 30th minute mark. After Albert Kelly had kicked to the right, the ball was tapped back to Don who put up a perfectly weighted kick on the outside of his boot and Mead came through, leapt above Cronk, and steadied his balance and scored under the posts.
The Titans were never headed again. They led 14-12 at half-time before Kelly’s intercept try stretched the lead to 20-12. Then came Bromwich’s try after Storm skipper Cameron Smith went right from dummy-half and Cronk in support and he fed Bromwich with the debatable pass.
Mark Minichiello opened up an eight-point buffer again when he powered over from a flat ball from Kelly, with Bird’s conversion making it 26-18.
But, like during a period in the first half, some errors crept in to the Titans’ play. Kelly kicked out on the full after lofting the ball for Don near the right corner. Luke Bailey was penalised for a leg pull, Myles was penalised for holding down and our boys dropped off a few tackles. Beau Falloon was put on report for a lifting tackle.
During that crucial period Melbourne scored a converted try through centre Will Chambers on the right, and then levelled at 26-all when Falloon was penalised for not clearing Smith in the ruck, 10 minutes from the end.
But it was a credit to the Titans’ resolve, and confidence, that they were able to get to the right end of the field and take advantage of the penalty in the Douglas tackle. Bird, who had missed two hard kicks from the touchline while regular kicker Smith kicked his for Melbourne, held his nerve and booted it well. He laughed afterwards that he revealed he heard a quip from regular training field kicking hotshot Taylor “do you want me to take it Birdy?”
“Ball in hand it was our best performance of the season and it was an open affair and the effort was enormous,” said coach John Cartwright who now has to prepare his side for a five day turnaround and the big local derby against Brisbane at Cbus Super Stadium on Friday night.
“Bobby (Blair) was our third five-eighth in five rounds so that shows what an effort it was. And Dave Mead [a regular winger] was courageous and very good at fullback”
Co-skipper Myles was not happy errors gave his coach palpitations late in the game but was delighted with the willingness of his side through the 80 minutes, especially being one down on the forward interchange with Taylor covering for Tighe in the backs.
“We let them in the game too much from our ill-discipline and we have to find a happy medium between out attack and defence as we’re one or the other at present,” he said. “Our boys are still learning to stay in the grind, and we did that today.”
iSelect Titans 28 (Gordon, Tighe, Mead, Kelly, Minichiello tries; Bird 4 goals) beat Melbourne Storm 26 (Waqa 2, Bromwich, Chambers tries; Smith 5 goals).