Stop dreaming: Cronk will never play for another NRL club

Tim Gore Columnist

By Tim Gore, Tim Gore is a Roar Expert

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    Cooper Cronk’s announcement that he has been granted a release from the Melbourne Storm – the club he has played all of his 300-plus games with over 14 seasons – at the end of this season has sent social media into meltdown.

    Although Cronk will be 34 years old come the 2018 season, supporters from Sydney teams want the star halfback to be at their club.

    But while he may be made an offer he can’t refuse, my bet is that Cronk will be loathe to pull on any jersey that isn’t purple.

    Further, the idea of playing against Cam Smith will be more than he can bear.

    But more than both of those two considerations will be the knowledge that he will blow a big part of his hard-earned legacy with the Storm and their supporters if he plays against his long-standing side.

    That’s regardless of how much he has bled for the Purple Pride during his long and illustrious career; regardless of the justifiable reason he has for relocating to Sydney; regardless that Storm fans know Cooper owes them nothing.

    If Cronk plays against the Storm, he will probably cost himself the honour of being feted as one of their greatest.

    Who is your club’s greatest ever player?

    There’s a good chance he led you to glory, has a grandstand named after him, or maybe even has been immortalised in bronze.

    There’s an even better chance that he was a long-term player for your club and most probably captained it at some point.

    For most people a name, or a couple of names, will quickly spring to mind. However, I bet most of the names will have one key thing in common: they will be one club players.

    To be considered among the greatest, a player has to have lived and breathed the club as much as the fans.

    Unlike the fans – who are the true owners of their clubs – players come and go. Injury, new pastures or retirement take them all. They are merely the temporary caretakers of the jerseys.

    Whether ultimately successful of not, the players that the fans remember and celebrate as their greatest were as dedicated to the team as the supporters.

    Think Andrew Ettingshausen, Gavin Miller or Paul Gallen; Royce Simmons; Andrew Johns; Steve Mortimer; Mal Meninga or Laurie Daley; Johnny Raper or Reg Gasnier; Ray Price, Mick Cronin or Peter Sterling; Wayne Pearce, Steve Roach or Paul Sironen; Steve Menzies or Graham Eadie; Darren Lockyer or Allan Langer; Clive Churchill or John Sattler; Kevin Hastings or Dally Messenger;

    All one-team players.

    paul-gallen-cronulla-sharks-nrl-grand-final-rugby-league-2016

    Of course, there are some exceptions. The players who came to your club after a stint with another, but became as enmeshed as any player who started as a junior could have.

    Brad Fittler for the Roosters, Terry Lamb for the Bulldogs, Johnathan Thurston for the Cowboys. They all finished – or will finish – at those clubs and brought them glory.

    However, if you change clubs at the end of your career – whether you wanted to or not (think Greg Alexander, Brad Clyde or Robbie Farah) – you may be remembered fondly by some supporters, but you are unlikely to be revered anymore.

    There could be no better example of this than this weekend, when the Queensland Reds take on the Brumbies in Canberra. In that game, the unthinkable will happen for the home fans: club legend George Smith will play against the club that – until Saturday night – loved him like no other player.

    They thought he loved them just the same.

    It turns out he doesn’t.

    He can pull on the jersey of an opposition team and actively seek to cause disappointment to those who have loved him so truly, so devotedly.

    While the likes of Stephen Larkham, Joe Roff and George Gregan have all played for the Brumbies, it is widely accepted that Smith is the best Brumby ever.

    However, once he takes to the field on Saturday night there can be no thought of a grandstand ever being named after him or a statue of him being placed near the ones of Big Mal and Lozza at Canberra Stadium.

    The Canberra crowd’s love has been spurned by Smith. Now they are just a gig he had once. Cue Dire Straits: “Now you just say “Oh, Romeo, yeah. You know I used to have a scene with him.” But Juliet…”

    Coenie Oosthuizen (R) of the Cheetahs tackles Brumbie George Smith. AFP PHOTO / Mark GRAHAM

    Do you really think Cooper Cronk feels that way about his club and that mass of purple people who have loved him so devotedly for so long?

    I doubt it.

    When it comes down to it I don’t think he will spurn their love.

    And make no mistake: no matter how understandingly and gracefully the fans let him go, if he plays against them, he will be spurning them.

    It is true that every person does have their price. Cronk could be lured to play for a Sydney club if the price was high enough. However, there are a number of factors that mean that price will be very high and extremely unlikely to be reached:

    1. Cronk will be 34 in December 2017. He is not a long term proposition for any club, and to meet his price will mean losing other players who are long term propositions;

    2. As he is 34 any club that takes him will be aiming for immediate success, with Cooper being the missing piece of the puzzle. Which Sydney clubs are in that position, will actually be interested AND have the money? The Bulldogs maybe;

    3. A large part of what makes Cronk great is the system he operates within: “Bellamy ball.” It is a completely scripted, metronomic system of play that sees Cronk constantly operating behind a forward pack that almost always goes forward and rarely makes mistakes within their red zone. Cronk is not a freestyle halfback like Johnathan Thurston. If that structure is not there he can struggle. What Sydney club – that is interested – can provide him that system? Maybe the Bulldogs I guess;

    4. He most probably doesn’t need the cash. Make no mistake that Cronk is one very serious, very focussed dude. His finances and plan going forward will almost certainly be well in order. While extra money would possibly be nice, he would hardly be playing for food if he played on;

    5. The lessons of the past. Paul Vautin finished up playing reserve grade for the Roosters. Ricky Stuart ended up surrendering to injury at the Bulldogs. Matt Orford’s Raiders excursion was a disaster. Benji Marshall has broken his arm playing for Redcliffe. Do you think Cronk want’s to risk that sort of end to such an illustrious career? I think not.

    My bet is that Cronk will seamlessly enter the media. He is intelligent, well spoken and has achieved every single team and individual accolade he could have in the game of rugby league. The chances are he’d even get a decent pay packet.

    If he retires, he could even finally get his nose fixed.

    These opportunities will likely be enough of a lure for him to not seriously consider playing for another NRL side, especially when that will almost certainly cost him being celebrated alongside Cam Smith and Billy Slater as one of the Melbourne Storm’s greatest ever players.

    What’s certain is that Cronk will be determined to leave the Storm after securing one more premiership.

    Instead of dreaming of securing his services, opposition supporters should be far more concerned with how their side is going to try and halt the Cronk-led purple march to victory.

    Tim Gore
    Tim Gore

    Tim has been an NRL statistician for ABC Radio Grandstand since 1999, primarily as part of their Canberra coverage. Tim has loved rugby league since Sterlo was a kid with lots of hair but was cursed with having no personal sporting ability whatsoever. He couldn't take a hit in footy, was a third division soccer player making up numbers, plays off 41 in golf and is possibly the world's worst cricketer ever. He has always been good at arguing the point though and he has a great memory of what happened. Follow Tim on Twitter.

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    The Crowd Says (224)

    • April 5th 2017 @ 6:45am
      Davo said | April 5th 2017 @ 6:45am | ! Report

      You said that Steve Price was a one club player yet he had a few seasons at the Warriors after his fantastic career at the Bulldogs and he is still one of the Bulldogs greats. At the same time he is also viewed as an outstanding Warrior even though it was only a few seasons. He never lost the admiration of the Bulldogs fans for moving on (for the right reasons) and was always viewed by them as a Bulldog as much as the Warrior fans also took to him. Who’s to say that Cronk can’t do the same thing?

      • Columnist

        April 5th 2017 @ 7:02am
        Tim Gore said | April 5th 2017 @ 7:02am | ! Report

        Strewth! Yes of course. I’d forgotten. It is still odd to me that he ever left…

        • April 6th 2017 @ 4:56am
          Norad said | April 6th 2017 @ 4:56am | ! Report

          So Bob Fulton isn’t Manly’s greatest every player as he ended up at the Roosters instead of retiring? No one even remembers the games where Fulton played for Easts against Manly.

          And what about all the Broncos greats whi had long careers at Brisbane clubs before 1988? What are they?

          Stats don’t lie but udderly rideekulous logic does.

          • April 6th 2017 @ 6:28am
            soapit said | April 6th 2017 @ 6:28am | ! Report

            same with fatty vautin

      • April 5th 2017 @ 11:26am
        Shaun said | April 5th 2017 @ 11:26am | ! Report

        Very true. Although i think the fact that he went to the Warriors, in a completely different country, was easier to swallow for fans from both sides. I think it would have been a very different scenario had he gone to, say, the Rabbitohs.

        • April 5th 2017 @ 12:18pm
          matth said | April 5th 2017 @ 12:18pm | ! Report

          There will always be exceptions like Stephen Price – for example Michael Ennis will now always have a place in the hearts of Sharks fans. Other examples include Petero C for the Broncos who is still a legend despite have a couple of seasons at Penrith.

          I think Ennis is in another category – not one club players, but are revered for bringing their skills to a club that needed them and helps them achieve glory. For example, Lazo is a legend for three different clubs, because he brought success wherever he went. Ben Kennedy at the Sea Eagles would be another. Ron Coote to the Roosters. Maybe these players in general become legends at the last club they had success with.

          Then there are the types that did it by playing another code or in another country – Brad Thorn would be another, his status actually increased, however he didn’t actually play against the Broncos. Alfie’s short term stint with Warrington would be another.

          But in general I agree with Tim’s premise. Cronk has nothing to prove and, although I think the Eels could potentially win a flag with a Cronk/Norman/Arthur combination, I suspect Fox Sports will be his next assignment.

          • April 5th 2017 @ 9:03pm
            Rob said | April 5th 2017 @ 9:03pm | ! Report

            Like Brad Thorn did, I have a gut feeling Cronk would only consider a stint in Rugby as his best option. Playing for another Sydney based club would be unthinkable for a player of Cronk’s character.

    • April 5th 2017 @ 7:05am
      Busty McCracken said | April 5th 2017 @ 7:05am | ! Report

      Great article and I’d be very surprised if he was to pull on a different teams jersey, the main incentive I would see for him is to still be eligible to play Origin again in 2018 but even then i highly doubt it.

      From his original conference when he announced he was leaving the storm I never got any impression other than this was it and was surprised everyone just expected him to sign with a sydney club automatically.

      • April 5th 2017 @ 11:33am
        Shaun said | April 5th 2017 @ 11:33am | ! Report

        People are dreaming if they think he will hang up the boots.
        At the end of the day, this is a career for these guys and they are looking to make the most out of what is a relatively one.
        It’s easy to look at it from a fans and passion point of view, but i would put my house on him teaming up with the highest bidder.

    • April 5th 2017 @ 7:20am
      Jeremy Shrubb said | April 5th 2017 @ 7:20am | ! Report

      Not really fair to the argument as a whole to be nit-picking specific examples, but I’d say Matty Johns is still revered by Knights, even though he spent some time at the Sharks. I could be wrong, though, as it is pretty subjective.

      • Columnist

        April 5th 2017 @ 7:22am
        Tim Gore said | April 5th 2017 @ 7:22am | ! Report

        Look, it is subjective. Clyde is still revered at the Raiders, Vautin at the Sea Eagles, but there was certainly damage to the legacy.

        • April 5th 2017 @ 7:53am
          AGO74 said | April 5th 2017 @ 7:53am | ! Report

          Ricky Stuart and brad Clyde with the raiders/Bulldogs?

        • April 5th 2017 @ 9:06am
          Geoff from Bruce Stadium said | April 5th 2017 @ 9:06am | ! Report

          What about Ruben Wiki after he went to the Warriors – I’m sure Raiders supporters still have a soft spot for Ruben despite him going back to NZ. The bloke was in tears when he played his last game for the Raiders such was his love for the club. But he wanted to return home for family reasons which was understandable. Brad Clyde and Ricky Stuart left the Raiders due to salary cap pressures in the 1990s to play with Canterbury but are still club legends.

          I’m not sure about your arguments here Tim. Sometimes players have to move on through choice while others move on for other reasons such as salary cap pressures or coaches move them on or for personal reasons. It would be a fairly shallow reaction from supporters to turn their backs on former club champions if they leave due to these circumstances. And I reckon only Tigers supporters could tell you if Robbie Farah is still regarded as a club champion despite having to leave the club.

          • Columnist

            April 5th 2017 @ 9:45am
            Tim Gore said | April 5th 2017 @ 9:45am | ! Report

            No one is turning their backs Geoff. I still love those players as you know. It’s just that those players will never be regarded in the very top echelon.

            • Columnist

              April 5th 2017 @ 9:48am
              Tim Gore said | April 5th 2017 @ 9:48am | ! Report

              There will be no statue. There will be no grandstand.
              Although, if Ricky takes us back to glory as coach that prospect might change.

              • April 5th 2017 @ 10:49am
                Geoff from Bruce Stadium said | April 5th 2017 @ 10:49am | ! Report

                The Raiders could rename Mal’s stand to the Meninga/Stuart/Croker Stand if they pull off a premiership in the next coupe of years. And if Jarod hangs around for another seven to eight years he could be due for a statue – headgear and all. Talking of club loyalty I just couldn’t imagine seeing Jarod in any team colour other than green.

    • April 5th 2017 @ 7:27am
      KingCowboy said | April 5th 2017 @ 7:27am | ! Report

      Cronk isn’t leaving for money or a chance to win a P’ship, he is moving to be with his Mrs. Personally, I would rather see him stay with the club but I don’t think Storm fans will be as angry if it was for one of the above reasons. A two year $2.5mil contract will see him run around again before he moves into the media.

      • Columnist

        April 5th 2017 @ 9:18am
        Tim Gore said | April 5th 2017 @ 9:18am | ! Report

        A good point. Article updated

    • Roar Guru

      April 5th 2017 @ 7:29am
      Rellum said | April 5th 2017 @ 7:29am | ! Report

      I cant see Cronk going to another team. The Broncs are the team where he would fit it best. He may just retire.

      And to nitpick on your examples Mal Maninga and Alfie Langer played for two clubs. Mal spent half of career at souths and Alfie a few years at Ipswich.

      • Roar Guru

        April 5th 2017 @ 7:36am
        Rellum said | April 5th 2017 @ 7:36am | ! Report

        Ofcourse we are not counting English clubs

      • Columnist

        April 5th 2017 @ 7:41am
        Tim Gore said | April 5th 2017 @ 7:41am | ! Report

        That is nit picking.

        • Roar Guru

          April 5th 2017 @ 7:49am
          Rellum said | April 5th 2017 @ 7:49am | ! Report

          No it is not actually. Ask Mal if he played for two clubs. He is a legend for both clubs. Won premierships for both clubs. Both were first grade clubs where he got picked for Qld and Australia.

          The only reason it is not an issue is they didn’t play one another.

          • Columnist

            April 5th 2017 @ 7:53am
            Tim Gore said | April 5th 2017 @ 7:53am | ! Report

            And that’s why it is not picking. Different comps.

            • Roar Guru

              April 5th 2017 @ 8:06am
              Rellum said | April 5th 2017 @ 8:06am | ! Report

              Sorry I take issue when you say he only played for one club

              • Columnist

                April 5th 2017 @ 9:45am
                Tim Gore said | April 5th 2017 @ 9:45am | ! Report

                Your issue taking is noted.

              • April 5th 2017 @ 10:28am
                Jacko said | April 5th 2017 @ 10:28am | ! Report

                Based on that rellum every player played somewhere else. Juniors, Schools, Age groups etc…

    • April 5th 2017 @ 7:34am
      J Schro's Afro said | April 5th 2017 @ 7:34am | ! Report

      Well written and hard to argue your logic. The question is though – you’re a long time retired and if Cooper wants to go around again it’s hard to say no to those itchy feet.

      It would be a shame to see him in a different jersey next year but that’s the way sport is these days. Nothing lasts forever.

      My bet is he will retire. He’ll be a Corey Parker and retire a year to early rather than a year to late (albeit totally different circumstances..)

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