Macdonald back to take on Storm

Macdonald back to take on Storm

The Aquis Gold Coast Titans undoubtedly gained confidence from the 30-12 season opening victory against Newcastle Knights last Sunday, but no one in the camp has any doubt that a better early indication of the team’s capabilities in 2016 comes tomorrow in Melbourne.

Neil Henry’s side has been boosted by the return of World All Stars centre Nene Macdonald whose better than expected recovery from a knee injury suffered in the All Stars clash in mid-February see him come into the side in place of last weekend’s debutant John Olive.

Co-captain William Zillman (calf) and Eddy Pettybourne (corked thigh) will miss the Storm clash, meaning Luke Douglas will come into the 17 after missing the round one clash through a one-match suspension.

Those changes emphasise the depth in this year’s squad, but it is the quality and discipline that will get a genuine gauge against the clinical-style of the Craig Bellamy coached Storm which will come under the eye of the critics who were quick to write-off the Titans’ bona fides before a ball had been kicked in 2016.

“It was great to start the season with a victory after a very good off-season but we go to Melbourne for a real challenge against a side that not only has a formidable home record but have been one of the real forces in the competition for a long while,” coach Henry said.

“We’re going down there knowing we have to be better than last week and control the ball better than last week and stand up to them in the forwards.

“Their dangers are obvious – Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk have been together a long time now under Craig Bellamy and we need to contain them.

“But they have a lot of other established players. Kenny Bromwich up front is a reliable player, their edge back-rowers in Tohu Harris and Kevin Proctor are dangerous, Cameron Munster is a livewire player who was impressive against us last year, Marika Koroibete is a handful outside him and on the other side Will Chambers is an Origin player.

“They have a really handy roster so we’ll have to be good to beat them.”

Pleasing aspects of the Titans’ victory over the Knights were the basic fundamentals of good, controlled metre-gaining from their own end, a consistent kicking game particularly from Tyrone Roberts and a confidence to use the ball despite the wet conditions.

However, Henry wants more selective options and ball control in attacking positions because he knows opportunities could be rare against a Storm defence that is hard to crack at AAMI Park and are the best in the NRL at slowing down the play-the-ball and sweating on opponents’ errors.

Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk have particularly exploited Titans errors in the past seasons, with Cronk creating several tries from kicking to the wings from mid-field, and fullback Billy Slater returned from a long lay-off against the Dragons on Monday night looking sharp.

Left winger, Fijian Marika Koroibete, was explosive too and comes up against Anthony Don who scored two tries against the Knights. But it will be what is provided to the pair inside that that will play a big part in deciding their duel.

Skipper Nathan Friend heads south to where he played four seasons from 2003, after being brought to the club from the Broncos with rookie coach Craig Bellamy. Cameron Smith was a fellow little known hooker looking to establish himself that season and he leapt into Queensland Origin recognition in his rookie year while Friend played as his deputy, eventually sharing duties in the 2007 grand final.

Friend is looking forward to the contest and lining up as opposing captain against the world’s best No. 9 with whom he has remained good friends.

“I learned a lot from him and still do with how he conducts himself on and off the field and it will be a challenge going up against him,” Friend said.

“We have to restrict his opportunities close to our line. We have to win the yardage battle like we did against the Knights and be strong in our early carries, that’s a key. We can’t give Billy Slater any room around Cam and Cooper Cronk.

“It’s a whole new ball game after a good start against the Knights, travelling away against a consistently good performing team who are always strong early in the season.

“But we’re looking forward to it. It’s a good test for us.”

While the Titans have won only once at AAMI Park (in 2015), they have been beaten by a point there (in 2014) and eight points (2013) and competed well for the first half last season before making errors and falling away to a 36-14 loss.

The teams:

TITANS: Mead, Macdonald, Davis, Hoffman, Don, Roberts, Taylor, Shillington, Friend (capt), Paasi, Taia, McQueen, Bird. Interchange: Douglas, James, Pulu, Mortimer.

STORM: Slater, Koroibete, Munster, Chambers, Tonumaipea, Green, Cronk, Jesse Bromwich, Smith (capt), McLean, Proctor, Harris, Finucane.  Interchange: Kenny Bromwich, Glasby, Kaufusi, Welch.

REFEREES: Klein, Sutton.

KICK-OFF: 6.30pm (5.30pm Qld)

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 14 – Storm 9 wins, Titans 4 wins.

AT AAMI PARK: Storm 4, Titans 1.

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