Storm trio ready to take on the world
Having first crossed paths on a suburban Brisbane footy ground more than a decade ago, Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk are now set to unleash the NRL’s most devastating combination on the international arena.
The Melbourne trio will line up alongside each other in Friday night’s Test against New Zealand at Eden Park.
It won’t be the first time they have done so in the green and gold, but following Darren Lockyer’s retirement and Cronk’s elevation, it will be the first time they have done so as the undisputed first choice.
And it is a combination that – given the portfolio of performances they have produced in the purple of the Storm – could alter the landscape of international rugby league.
The common consensus is that the Kiwis have been bridging the gap to the Australians in recent years, but as they have done to their NRL rivals, Smith, Cronk and Slater have the potential to take the Kangaroos to a whole new level.
The trio bring to the table an individual skill set amongst the best in the game, but it’s in partnership that their true brilliance comes to the fore.
“It’s a unique bond that we have together. We’ve been around footy teams together for a long time, so we know each other’s game off by heart now,” Smith told AAP.
“We have a bit of an instinct of what each other’s going to do on the field.
“Spending every day together, being under the same coach for our whole career has certainly made our combination a lot stronger.”
That combination first began at Brisbane Norths in 2000, when Cronk and Smith were sent there by the Storm having been signed straight out of school.
“Towards the end of that pre-season, that’s when Bill came down,” Smith recalled.
“He was looking for a club to play for in Brisbane and ended up coming to Norths.
“He played in the last trial of the pre-season and got a start in our under 19s team there – we all played the season there together in 2001 and slowly filtered down to Melbourne.
“I moved down to Melbourne in 2002, Bill came down fulltime the following year and Coops was the year after that and we slowly came into the first grade system together and ever since then we’ve been playing together.
“For us, we’ve spent nearly every day together since 2001.”
Now 11 years on, that same threesome are at the heart of an Australian side with Smith as its leader.
And given what they have done with the Storm this year, there is genuine excitement at what they could do in the green and gold when they have the likes of Greg Inglis, Justin Hodges and Akuila Uate to throw the ball to rather than Matt Duffie, Will Chambers and Justin O’Neill.
But while the supporting cast may have improved, Kangaroos coach Tim Sheens denied it would result in instant success.
“We’ve only got two training sessions to make it happen,” Sheens said.
“Melbourne spend a lot of time getting their game together – they know their game, they know their calls.
“Cooper’s got to share that role with Johnathan (Thurston) now.
“It’s not that easy. People think because they’re in great form it’s just going to click with a national side, but you’re throwing them into a different environment.
“You put the best players together, you put them in an environment where they’re representing their country and things change.”
Even Smith isn’t getting too carried away by the prospect.
“It’s probably really exciting for everyone else to see it, but for us it’s just what we do,” Smith said.
“We’re just doing what we’ve always done since we were 18, back when we were still running around at Brisbane Norths.”© AAP 2013