It was 12th against 1st when Gold Coast took on Melbourne at Cbus on Saturday evening, but the Titans were dominant for the first forty minutes, keeping the Storm to zero and ensuring that they would only score two tries in the whole game. By the time the final whistle blew, the visitors had only just managed to scrape out a two point win, for one of their least convincing performances in several weeks.
The game actually started with a near-try for Melbourne, who set up Cameron Munster in just the right position for a last-tackle grubber out on the left edge. Some pressure from Brenko Lee sent Munster off course, however, allowing AJ Brimson to scoot in and clean up the footy before it had a chance of crossing over the chalk. With Munster taking out his frustration through a dangerous tackle immediately after, the Titans were piggybacked up the other end of the park, where they put down the first four points of the evening a mere four minutes into the match.
The setup came from Kane Elgey, who glimpsed Brimson on his left about ten metres out from the line, and ran right into the Melbourne defence before sending the footy across to his fullback. From there, Brimson put in one of the most determined twist-and-spins of the back end of the season, skipping over Curis Scott and then tumbling through a swathe of purple jerseys before planting the Steeden on the turf.
Billy Slater was understandably fuming at the breakdown of the Storm’s right edge, and yet his grievances grew a set later, when the Gold Coast defence dragged Billy the Kid seven metres backwards on the first tackle. With so much momentum going their way, it seemed as if the Titans were destined to go over again shortly, and they very nearly did when Anthony Don collected the football from Lee and broke through the line, grubbering it forward only for Slater to obstruct him from having a crack at grounding it.
Since Slater’s obstruction had been fairly well concealed, he wasn’t pinged for it. Still, the Titans got a dropout, and then a penalty goal following a slow peel from Jesse Bromwich, as Taylor booted through what would turn out to be the last points of the night for Gold Coast. For the rest of the first forty, both sides came agonizingly close to putting down four more points, but especially the home team, who seemed continually on the verge of crashing over, only to find the next try finally elude them.
It was actually Melbourne who had the next close call, though, when Slater collected the footy after a Gold Coast high ball and then sliced through the line, sending it out to Justin Olam only for the PNG representative to cough it up, and so deny himself his first try in the NRL. Slater was announcing himself in the most powerful way, and yet Taylor caught him offside at the end of the next set, resulting in a resurgence of Gold Coast momentum that saw four Storm players muscling up to prevent Kevin Proctor crossing over.
Shortly after, Don was denied again, after a harbour bridge pass from Taylor went forward, helped on its way by Josh Ado-Carr. Olam then had his turn to be denied twice, breaking through the line only to be brought down by one of the trysaving tackles of the night from Brimson, after Sami had just failed to get to him. For a moment, it looked as if Olam might get another chance, only for a pass from Scott – who had also set up his linebreak – to him in the right corner was called forward.
Throughout this period, you could sense Slater, in particular, raring to set his stamp upon the game, but the Titans somehow managed to contain him. A cool, clear decision from Brimson about halfway through said it all, as the Gold Coast fullback waited calmly and assuredly for a long kick from his opposite no. 1 to bounce into touch, despite a sea of purple jerseys pressuring him into taking it over himself.
The Titans got their best chance – and their biggest heartbreak – in the last ten minutes, when a superb linebreak from Brimson up the edge and a left field kick at speed found Sami on the inside. It seemed as if there was no way that Sami couldn’t score, but Ado-Carr bounded over from the other side of the field to not only tackle the big Gold Coast winger right on the line, but somehow get beneath him and manage to prevent him getting the Steeden to turf as well.
We’re used to seeing these dazzling displays of speed from the Fox up the field, but to see him dash crossfield was something else, especially since it was accompanied by one of the toughest trysaving efforts – possibly the toughest trysaving effort – of his entire career. Although they hadn’t scored yet, this was arguably the moment at which Melbourne won the game, or at least the key turning point, with Croft compounding Ado-Carr’s effort by holding Moeaki Fotuiaka up with thirty seconds to go.
The first stanza therefore ended in a bit of a weird place for the Titans. On the one hand, the Storm had been kept scoreless at half time for the first time since 2012. On the other hand, such a massive feat should have put the home team further ahead, and the toll of their missed tries seemed almost as dramatic as the exhilaration of their lead.
All that ambivalence culminated with an offside penalty for Olam just on half time. In a way, this captured the messiness of Melbourne over the first half, and their inability to gel as they usually do. Yet with Taylor somehow missing the penalty kick – the two points that might have taken the match to golden point – and Olam getting away with a penalty rather than a professional foul, you couldn’t escape the niggling sense that the Storm would manage to claw their way back.
Sure enough, they scored five minutes into the second stanza, effectively resetting the game after they were handed back-to-back penalties – a second effort from Brenko Lee, and some crowding from Ryan James. Back down Gold Coast’s end of the field, the Storm moved the football left, as a late, high tackle from James on Smith saw both captains start scuffling as the play continued around them.
It was a rare brainsnap from Smith, in particular, as the skirmish took him out of the match for a good thirty seconds, during which time Slater stepped up, commanded the field and shifted the footy back to the right, where it finally found Scott on the corner. From there, the burly centre pivoted back inside off his right foot to dishevel Konrad Hurrell, before fending off Will Matthews and Philip Sami for a dance through the defence that was almost as dexterous as Brimson’s opening twist-and-spin.
Melbourne might have only been four points ahead, but somehow the entire tide of the game had shifted. The Titans got a brief flashback to the opening stanza after another Slater-Olam combination went awry – a putdown that was called try by the refs on field, but was reversed when the replay showed that pressure from Sami had forced Olam’s foot onto the sideline just as he was about to plant the Steeden.
Still, in such a low-scoring game, all the Storm really needed to do was to collect one more try in order to really cement their lead. They got their chance after James was taken off for an HIA, when another error let them into Gold Coast’s red zone – this time, a dangerous tackle from Elgey, who lifted Scott above the horizontal halfway done the park. An offload from Stimson to Slater build some more momentum, and while Don might have contained Billy before he could offload in turn, it was clear that the Storm were setting themselves up to consolidate.
This would be their last try – and the last try of the night – but it was spectacular, as Munster made up for some of his ill discipline earlier in the game with a sequence of play that seemed to decimate the entire Gold Coast defensive line. Collecting the footy from Bromwich on the left side of the field, he danced across the ruck, drifting past one Titan after another until he arrived on the right side of the field, slipping out of a tackle from Elgey and then outrunning Sami to put down four resounding points.
With Smith booting through the extras, the Storm were now two points ahead – the most important two points they would score in the build up to finals football. While the Titans had a few more bursts over the next fifteen minutes, they were never quite able to regain the speed and energy they’d showcased over the first forty. They’ll be looking for a more cathartic end to their season, then, when they take on the Cowboys at Cbus next week, just as the Storm will be looking for a much more emphatic win when they front up agains the Panthers at AAMI Park.