Superstar Melbourne halfback Cooper Cronk will finally reveal where his future lies on Thursday – with the hottest property on the NRL open market tossing up the risks involved with a big-money move to financially vulnerable Gold Coast.
The Storm issued a cryptic media alert announcing Cronk would address his future on Thursday, with Melbourne and the Titans leading a race for his signature that also includes NRL rivals St George Illawarra and South Sydney.
With speculation growing with each passing day, Melbourne requested Cronk make a call on his future by the end of the week – so that the club could begin planning for a 2013 squad that either does or doesn’t contain him.
However the chances of the likely Queensland State of Origin and Australian Test No.7 staying with the Storm seemed to diminish on Wednesday given the bizarre wording of their release on Wednesday.
“Cooper Cronk has requested of Melbourne Storm a media conference tomorrow, Thursday 29 March, at 10.30am sharp,” the release read.
“No other comments will be made by Cooper or the club prior to that time.”
If anyone was ever going to lure Cronk out of the Victorian capital, the Titans had always been considered favourites due to their close proximity to the 28-year-old’s family.
They are believed to have weighed in with a massive $3.2 million four-year deal – $1 million more than what the Storm are said to have offered – but recent revelations that the Titans were facing a $25 million debt may have caused Cronk to have a rethink.
Their financial worries haven’t stopped the Titans being aggressive in the player market, with Gold Coast having last week announced they had signed Rabbitohs big man David Taylor.
South Sydney, with former Storm assistant coach Michael Maguire in charge and in desperate need of an established halfback, were refusing to weigh into the speculation as to whether they were in the running for Cronk.
“I have no comment on that whatsoever,” Rabbitohs chief executive Shane Richardson told AAP.
With many commentators in rugby league struggling to nail down Cronk’s future destination, there was even speculation on Wednesday night that Super Rugby franchise Melbourne Rebels could yet prise him away.
The Rebels denied back in January they were chasing the Storm playmaker, but he could be a natural fit for the struggling outfit given he has a history in the code as a former Australian schoolboys rugby union representative.
Speculation over Cronk’s future has had little impact on the Storm’s on-field fortunes in 2012, with his combination with representative teammates Billy Slater and Cameron Smith propelling Melbourne to the only unbeaten start over the opening four rounds of the season.
Having already seen their club torn apart by the salary-cap scandal following the 2010 season, the Storm would be desperate to keep their big three together.
Any decision to leave could also have a marked impact on Cronk’s future success, given he has developed an almost telepathic relationship with Slater and Smith over the years, with NRL analyst and commentator Mark Geyer suggesting it would be in Cronk’s best interests to remain with the Storm.
“I would stay in Melbourne – sometimes it’s all about the legacy,” Geyer told Fox Sports News on Wednesday.
“At the moment, he’s part of a rugby league team that’s going to be remembered for a very long time.
“A big decision to be made tonight by Cooper Cronk and his family.”