Winner could be top of ladder

The haphazard form of NRL teams is evident in the fact the winner of the clash between the iSelect Titans and the Melbourne Storm today may be the only side to have won four of the first five games in 2014 and sit on top of thre ladder.

Both teams are three-from-four going into the 2pm clash at AAMI Stadium. Only Manly, who play Wests Tigers at Leichardt in today’s 3pm kick-off clash, can match the record of the winner in Melbourne if they win away in an extraordinary start to the season.

The blanket competition table is a result of the salary cap working to even the talent across the board but also an indication of an obvious orientation period as teams get used to the new tackling and other rules which has combined to produce a rush of penalties, faster play the balls and even more advantage from a run of possession.

Amidst that the Titans, who have admittedly lacked impact in attack and not split the line with any great regularity, especially in the opposing quarter, have still built confidence and spirit from their resolute defence in their three victories.

At this time of year, that is something coach John Cartwright and his team can get comfort from because the attack should naturally improve with game time.

In rounds one, three and four the Titans conceded only two tries each time which made the 40-12 loss to Wests Tigers in the oppressive heat at Cbus Super Stadium, with several players slightly off-colour through a virus that swept the camp, so uncharacteristic.

But they will have to be right on song in Melbourne against a side wiped out in the second half against the Bulldogs in Perth last weekend when without their most influential player in skipper and hooker Cameron Smith.

Smith returns to play the Titans and it is no revelation that his combination with halfback Cooper Cronk and fullback Billy Slater – the Australian Test trio – is the Titans’ biggest threat. But so too is the 80-minute persistence of the Storm who complete their set plays more clinically than any other team in the competition when in form.

“We’ve done a lot of work at training on Smith, Slater and Cronk obviously and we’ll definitely have to be on our toes to minimize their impact,” said Titans hooker Beau Falloon, who had his one-year contract option executed by the Titans this week.

Falloon, who has formed a wonderful combination with regular lock Paul Carter who has confronted all before him as Falloon’s dummy-half relay man, says the key to improving the team’s attack comes down to communication and patience.

Of the Titans’ 11 tries in the first four rounds, three have come from kicks, two from dummy-half, one from a bullocking run close to the line and four from halfback Albert Kelly against the run of play from long range a (three from intercepts or opposition error).

“We have to pick up our talk in attack, that’s a key thing we have to improve,” said Falloon. But he is full of praise for the job Carter is doing. “He has made a real impact of the bench, making a few big hits and being dangerous when he runs, so I’m really proud of him in how he has adapted.”

The absence of Sezer for the second time in three weeks, and fullback William Zillman who combines so well with him, presents a challenge to the team wanting to sharpen its attacking impact. David Mead will be keen to inject himself from fullback while Maurice Blair, usually a centre, gets the five-eighth role. He has played there before and will be familiar with the Storm’s patterns after playing for Melbourne in the previous three seasons.

He has played five-eighth several times before but it is a calculated gamble by Cartwright to start him there after using lock Ashley Harrison when Sezer has been absent before.

Greg Bird will again be handed the goalkicking duties.

One player the side will be looking for to make an impact if they are to come away with a win in Melbourne for the first time in the club’s history is second-rower Dave Taylor who had a powerful game against the Storm last season. He showed some promising signs against the Cowboys on Monday night, in attack and defence, but came up with a crucial turnover of possession late in the game and knows he needs to simplify his game and show consistency in his effort.

The teams:

Storm

1 Billy Slater
2 Sisa Waqa
3 William Chambers
4 Mahe Fonua
5 Young Tonumaipea
6 Ben Hampton
7 Cooper Cronk
8 Jesse Bromwich
9 Cameron Smith (c)
10 Bryan Norrie
11 Kevin Proctor
12 Ryan Hoffman
13 Ryan Hinchcliffe

Interchange
14 Kenny Bromwich
15 Tohu Harris
16 Jordan McLean
17 Mitch Garbutt
18 Tim Glasby

Coach: Craig Bellamy

 

Titans

1 David Mead
2 Kevin Gordon
3 Brad Tighe
4 Brad Takairangi
5 Anthony Don
18 Maurice Blair
7 Albert Kelly
8 Luke Douglas
9 Beau Falloon
10 Nate Myles (c)
11 Greg Bird (c)
12 David Taylor
13 Ashley Harrison

Interchange
14 Matthew White
15 Luke Bailey
16 Mark Minichiello
17 Paul Carter

Coach: John Cartwright