Melbourne have got their NRL campaign back on track with a thrilling 24-20 win over Gold Coast.
With both teams shorn of talent due to State of Origin duties and injuries, it was the Storm who came home the strongest, scoring two tries in the final 10 minutes to steal the victory.
Young stars Ben Hampton and Kurt Mann scored the four-pointers to halt the Storm’s two-game losing streak and show there is life in Melbourne without Origin stars Billy Slater, Cameron Smith, Ryan Hoffman and injured halfback Cooper Cronk.
The victory, in front of the second-lowest NRL crowd of the season of 6497, is the Storm’s first win without inspirational skipper Smith in eight attempts.
Already without regular halfback Albert Kelly, the Titans suffered an early setback when his replacement Beau Henry limped out of the match with a knee injury.
Queensland Origin squad member Will Chambers was released by the Maroons to play for the Storm and scored a double to put the visitors ahead 14-12 in the second half.
The Titans responded with James Roberts scoring on his debut for the club, before Melbourne’s late double made Kevin Gordon’s spectacular second academic.
Chambers received attention after suffering a knee injury with 15 minutes to go in the game but recovered to see out the match, easing any concerns Queensland coach Mal Meninga might have had in case the centre is required for Wednesday’s must-win clash with NSW.
The loss is the Titans’ fifth in a row and they’ll be itching to get back to the winner’s circle with another home game against St George Illawarra on Sunday.
Storm coach Craig Bellamy hailed the efforts of his patchwork team as they dug deep to overwhelm the home side late.
But the ex-NSW Origin coach said the disappointing crowd reflected a growing sense that club football is being hurt by the absence of star players during the Origin period.
“Throughout the Origin period – without being disrespectful to any team or anyone at all – the standard drops, because you’ve got 34 of your best players not playing,” he said.
“That’s just the way it is. The ones I feel for are the fans, the NRL fans. We all love Origin and don’t want to change that but, as I’ve said and a lot of other people have said it, the fans of the NRL clubs are getting shortchanged, at times.”
Titans coach John Cartwright said his team’s poor run was starting to affect confidence though he felt they hadn’t done too much wrong in Monday’s game.
“Forgetting how to win comes into it,” Cartwright said.
“That was probably an example tonight where the game was in our control and we didn’t close it down. That all comes into it.
“We’re not that far away points-wise but we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Kelly should be fit to return for the Dragons clash, in what would be a straight swap with Henry who appears to have suffered a posterior cruciate ligament injury to his right knee.