NRL’s 2018 premiership a tale of two 7s

Cam Stokes Roar Pro

By Cam Stokes, Cam Stokes is a Roar Pro

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    This year’s NRL premiership is likely to come down to two men, who will both be wearing the number 7 jersey, and looking to make an impact on teams that did very well without them last year.

    Cooper Cronk and Johnathan Thurston have been the two dominant halfbacks of the decade, and their influence on their respective teams may well decide this year’s premiers.

    Both are effectively new additions to their clubs, with Cronk leaving Melbourne for the Roosters, and Thurston returning from injury to a team that made the grand final without him.

    So who has the biggest impact?

    Cronk’s move has been the most talked about player transfer in recent memory, with most pundits believing he would pull up stumps after taking home the silverware in 2017. The competitive fire has not gone out, however, and he joins the tri-colours in a move which forced club stalwart Mitchell Pearce to head up the coast to Newcastle.

    After a top-two finish in 2017, Trent Robinson will be desperately hoping that Cronk can provide the polish that Pearce couldn’t, and turn an excellent regular season team into a legitimate title threat.

    Of course, whether Cronk can fit seamlessly into a new structure, after being in the Melbourne system for his entire career, remains to be seen. Punters are backing him though, with the Roosters coming into premiership favouritism on the back of his signing. It’s hard to argue with their logic, as the Roosters look a decidedly better team with Cronk steering the ship.

    It seems odd to consider Thurston an addition to the Cowboys team, but after missing the back half of the 2017 with a shoulder injury, that’s exactly what he will be.

    What will be most pleasing for Paul Green is how well his team lifted without their superstar halfback. Granted, they probably shouldn’t have even made the finals, but once there, Michael Morgan and Jason Taumalolo took their games to a new level, and their teammates followed.

    If Green can help them maintain this form in 2018, then throw Thurston, Matt Scott and Jordan McLean on top, he will be confident he can go one better than last year.

    The big question for Green, though, is whether Morgan can still be the dominant player he was in the finals with Thurston back in the team. The coach needs to find a way to let both play to their strengths.

    There are too many question marks over the other contenders. Can Melbourne compete at the same level without Cronk? Can the Broncos win without a recognised seven? Is it too early for Penrith, and too late for the Sharks? Is Josh Hodgson too important for the Raiders? What influence will Jarryd Hayne have on the Eels?

    Injuries always play their part, but the Roosters and Cowboys seem best placed at this stage. Which of the champion halfbacks can take everything their team achieved last year, and add the cherry on top?

    For mine, it’s Thurston. His will be the smoother transition, with the more immediate result. Cronk will take some time to adjust, and 2019 may more likely be his year. It will be fascinating to watch.

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    The Crowd Says (78)

    • January 9th 2018 @ 4:25am
      not so super said | January 9th 2018 @ 4:25am | ! Report

      reality is that the cowboys were pretty average for the majority of last season and we lucky to finish 8th. I dont think 3 wins against teams that played poorly and then got touched up in the GF is reason to change one of the all time greats

      • Roar Rookie

        January 9th 2018 @ 7:43am
        Hard Yards said | January 9th 2018 @ 7:43am | ! Report

        I agree Not So. And what was lacking in the Cows season last year? Consistency. They’re not a side that puts on the razzle dazzle much, but they get over the line – and Thurston kicks goals. Goals win games. Thurston was out for the season from the end of Origin II around about June 23. No consistency after that. Yeah JT13 played out of his skin; yeah Morgan stepped up, but not to Thurston’s game. Morgan is interesting. He looks like he has more muscle mass than JT, which helps, and clearly he’s caught the eye of representative selectors, and he just turned 26 at Christmas. So he has the time to really put the foot on the gas. If only they could do a Thurston brain download like in the Matrix movie. He’ll play fine at five eight with JT at half – should JT survive the season.

        This will be a tough year for Thurston. He turns 35 on Anzac Day, which is about my age in footballer years, and the opponents won’t make the mistake of leaving his shoulder surgery untested. He looks battered. I reckon the poor bastard will need a zimmer frame by the time he’s 45.

        Now as for the other couple of big names mentioned in the article, my crystal ball says that we’ve already seen the peak performances from Cronk and Hayne. You know this game. You can’t stay on top forever, and these two, sadly, have risen with wave earlier, and now are coming down the other side.

        • Roar Guru

          January 9th 2018 @ 11:14am
          Nat said | January 9th 2018 @ 11:14am | ! Report

          You can call it luck that the Cowboys made the finals but they had a tough run into the finals including Melbourne, Brisbane, Easts, Cronulla and Penrith. That’s a run that could have dismantled any campaign. On form at the time, I don’t think it was luck the Dogs beat the Saints to give NQ passage into the finals. NQ put themselves in the position to make the finals without their best then outclassed the next best for a GF appearance.

          • Roar Guru

            January 9th 2018 @ 11:35am
            The Barry said | January 9th 2018 @ 11:35am | ! Report

            I didn’t think the Bulldogs was luck against the Dragons either and took a big chunk of the $3.40 on offer!

            • Roar Guru

              January 9th 2018 @ 1:26pm
              Nat said | January 9th 2018 @ 1:26pm | ! Report

              $3.40! Nice, take that everyday for that 2 horse race.

          • January 10th 2018 @ 1:53am
            not so super said | January 10th 2018 @ 1:53am | ! Report

            they had a tough run because before that they had an easy run. they were lucky to finish 8th

            • Roar Guru

              January 10th 2018 @ 9:50am
              Nat said | January 10th 2018 @ 9:50am | ! Report

              Get some sleep champ. I’m sure you’re smarter than your unqualified, mostly salty one-liners would suggest.

      • January 9th 2018 @ 7:43am
        BA Sports said | January 9th 2018 @ 7:43am | ! Report

        Yes but they have won 19 of their last 27 with Thurston in the team and that run they took last year no doubt provides alot of players with new confidence.

      • Roar Pro

        January 9th 2018 @ 3:57pm
        Adam Hayward said | January 9th 2018 @ 3:57pm | ! Report

        I disagree. Most of their losses after Thurston got injured, they were competitive, considering all the other injuries they had and with playing players injured.

        Their victories over the Sharks, Eels and Roosters in the finals is because they were good enough to raise their game, and lets face it, their forwards mauled their opposition packs in their finals wins.

        Credit where its due.

    • January 9th 2018 @ 7:48am
      Greg Ambrose said | January 9th 2018 @ 7:48am | ! Report

      It’s a funny thing that two 34 year old half backs are perhaps the key to the 2018 Premiership. Throw in the 34 year old Cameron Smith and we have a scenario not seen before.

      There has been a clear drought of out and out champion half backs in NSW lasting a couple of decades perhaps and who was the lastly really great half back out of England?

      Has the drought extended to QLD? It seems like a production line but at the moment it has been a long time since an undisputed champion half has emerged .

      When Cronk and Thurston are gone which half back on the planet is considered in the same league?

      • January 9th 2018 @ 9:38am
        Peter Phelps said | January 9th 2018 @ 9:38am | ! Report

        Cronk is a superb no 7 and will improve the Roosters enormously if only for his attitude and discipline however Cooper has been pretty quiet his last couple of years at the Storm. At 34 are old legs beginning to tire ?, Is his mind on other things ? Is he losing the hunger ?

        Given that his old combinations are gone and he has to work out new ones, has to fit into a new team and has lost his old mentor, we could see a very different Cooper in the tricolours.

        Given that the Roosters lost Pearce to get Cronk, the really big Question is how much better will Coops be over the former incumbent ?

        In my view, the Cowboys should get a bigger lift out Thurston, He is no doubt a class act that inspires, organises and wins games. He is the Cowboys X factor. Problem is that his body has been showing some signs of letting him down. An injury early on in the season could be a big problem for the cowbies.

        The storm have an unknown in the No.7 jumper. Belamy has had plenty of time to work on the kid and hopefully by finals time he will prove to be a QLD Origin No 7 in the making. Similar to the Roosters, the big question here is how big a difference is there between Cooper and Croft ?

        That difference will bring the storm down from total domination in 2017 to at least the lead group in 2018. At this stage, I see little between these three teams and I think they will quickly establish themselves in the top 4. Everything else will then come down to the battle of the 7’s. At least Croft’s legs are a lot younger than 34 years old.

        • January 9th 2018 @ 11:14am
          Duncan Smith said | January 9th 2018 @ 11:14am | ! Report

          If Cronk lost any hunger, going to a new club in a new city will certainly bring it back. Add in his retirement from rep footy and I’d say he’ll go OK.

          • January 9th 2018 @ 3:20pm
            Peter Phelps said | January 9th 2018 @ 3:20pm | ! Report

            In other circumstances, I would agree with you however Cronk has been slightly off his game for a couple of years now. It could be nothing and a new club could just set that right but it could be that he is losing interest in the game after so many years at the top, is feeling his 34 years or is more interested in his new love. The Roosters contract could be nothing more than a fat pay day to pay for his new house and to buy him time to decide what he wants to do next in life.

            It will be interesting to see.

      • Roar Guru

        January 9th 2018 @ 11:27am
        Nat said | January 9th 2018 @ 11:27am | ! Report

        A bit rich coming from the bloke who touted DCE a the best half in the game.

        • January 9th 2018 @ 3:34pm
          Stormer said | January 9th 2018 @ 3:34pm | ! Report

          Yes but he’s a manly fan. And he’s a pretty good actor too. Cronk is too good not to get the chooks over the line. Watched him for 13 years and have seen how good he is over and over again.

    • Roar Guru

      January 9th 2018 @ 8:38am
      BigJ said | January 9th 2018 @ 8:38am | ! Report

      The Cowboys have proven that they can win without JT, the storm are yet to prove that they can win without Cronk. Clearly the Cowboys have the advantage in 2018

      • January 9th 2018 @ 10:26am
        Peter Phelps said | January 9th 2018 @ 10:26am | ! Report

        That is your opinion.

        Scraping into 8th position and losing 34-6 in the big one isn’t exactly proving that they can win without JT. Those 3 finals games they won to get them to the Big Dance were nail biting stuff as I remember.

        All credit to them for getting there but your statement needs rose tinted glasses methinks.

        • January 9th 2018 @ 10:39am
          KingCowboy said | January 9th 2018 @ 10:39am | ! Report

          Are you serious? Winning three final games without JT doesn’t prove we can win games without JT? I honestly don’t know how you could come up with that conclusion.

          • January 9th 2018 @ 11:31am
            RandyM said | January 9th 2018 @ 11:31am | ! Report

            Yeah I mean The Storm were a pretty average side last year. The Cowboys really should have taken care of them in the grand final, even without their champion halfback….

            • January 9th 2018 @ 12:36pm
              KingCowboy said | January 9th 2018 @ 12:36pm | ! Report

              The Storm were the Premiers and they were the best team by a mile, no doubt about that. I am disputing the fact that PP said the cows couldn’t win without JT. We did win and even though the Sharks game was very close and could have gone either way, we were much better then both the Eels and the Roosters in those two games.

              It is a fact that the Cows can win without JT and that doesn’t change even though the Storm smashed us in the GF!!!

              • January 9th 2018 @ 12:59pm
                RandyM said | January 9th 2018 @ 12:59pm | ! Report

                was being sarcastic ^^

              • January 9th 2018 @ 1:25pm
                KingCowboy said | January 9th 2018 @ 1:25pm | ! Report

                Ahhh sorry mate, now reading it back I get it. My bad!!!

              • January 9th 2018 @ 3:07pm
                RandyM said | January 9th 2018 @ 3:07pm | ! Report

                All good, i don’t think the Cowboys could have beaten Melbourne even with JT and Scott.

              • January 9th 2018 @ 3:39pm
                Peter Phelps said | January 9th 2018 @ 3:39pm | ! Report

                I was maybe taking your comment in the wrong context.

                I still think that claiming the Cowboys have the wood over the storm is a bit optimistic on your part. But we shall see, if the entertainment is half as good as last year, I will not complain.

              • January 10th 2018 @ 1:55am
                not so super said | January 10th 2018 @ 1:55am | ! Report

                you finished 8th and will miss the 8 this year

        • Roar Guru

          January 9th 2018 @ 11:25am
          Nat said | January 9th 2018 @ 11:25am | ! Report

          3 games? You mean 3 finals against next best but also enough games to get into the finals. Take, Cronk, Pearce, Hunt, DCE, Cleary, Maloney, Moses out of the other finals contenders for 3/4 of the season and they don’t come within a bulls roar of doing what NQ achieved.

          • Roar Guru

            January 9th 2018 @ 11:41am
            The Barry said | January 9th 2018 @ 11:41am | ! Report

            It was an absolute fairy tale, an awesome achievement and everyone was cheering them on but they did have a bit of luck on the way.

            They absolutely limped into the semis losing five of their last six. They destiny was out of their hands after their round 26 game.

            They outplayed, out enthused and out muscled the Sharks, Eels and Roosters and completely deserved their wins in all of those games. But I honestly think all three of those teams came out flat against the Cowboys.

            Willing to acknowledge that may be the way the Cowboys went for them. In each of those games I remember the Cowboys playing patient footy and getting a repeat set around the 60 minute mark. They’d suddenly put their foot down and in each game came up with a decisive trying the right.

            They deserved everything they achieved last year, no doubt. But they still rode their luck pretty hard as well. But you have to put yourself in a position to do so and the Cowboys were good enough to do that.

            • Roar Guru

              January 9th 2018 @ 1:48pm
              Nat said | January 9th 2018 @ 1:48pm | ! Report

              Yeah absolutely. Probably the best thing that could have happened was meeting Cronulla wk1 as they were limping as well. A few sliding doors moments and, as you said, you could nearly pick the moment Morgan took the game by the throat. Special mention to Lowe though, he kicked 14/15 in their finals campaign.

              • January 9th 2018 @ 8:41pm
                Birdy said | January 9th 2018 @ 8:41pm | ! Report

                Have to agree with your mention of Lowe, Nat,
                During the finals I noticed his goal kicking and wondered if that was the main reason he was in the squad.
                I started paying attention to his game, he had a few solid carried and his defence was first class. I don’t think he missed s tackle. .
                Hope he can carry on in 18.

          • January 10th 2018 @ 7:31am
            Brendon said | January 10th 2018 @ 7:31am | ! Report

            Actually I’d say the Storm would be ok without Cronk. They lost Slater (miles ahead of Cronk) and still made the GF and only lost by 2 points….

        • Roar Pro

          January 9th 2018 @ 4:07pm
          Adam Hayward said | January 9th 2018 @ 4:07pm | ! Report

          Your assessment of the Cows making a Grand Final without Thurston, not proving anything, is rather amusing I must say

        • January 9th 2018 @ 11:53pm
          Stormer said | January 9th 2018 @ 11:53pm | ! Report

          I think they’ll be tough to beat with JT back. However, I don’t think they’ll win the comp. it will be Melbourne and the roosters to fight it out. Brodie croft will be a sensation, especially with smith taking a lot of the pressure off him.

          Not sure about manly though Peter, I think they’re in for a tough year. But I hope you enjoy watching them anyway. I’d be glad to see them do well.

    • January 9th 2018 @ 9:14am
      BA Sports said | January 9th 2018 @ 9:14am | ! Report

      This years premiership will likely come down to two men… Cronk and Thurston..

      So we are writing off the Melbourne Storm with the greatest Fullback of all time and the greatest Hooker of all time – along with the coach with the highest winning percentage of all time and may one day in the future go down as one of the greatest coaches of all time…

      If halves are what matter though I would say the success or failure of the new no 7 in Melbourne will have a large say in the premiership. If he comes up with 4 or 5 tries, 20 odd try assists, 10 or 12 forced line drop outs and about 10 line breaks, I would say the Storm are a real chance.

      And for the record in 2017
      Cronk 22 games
      Croft 4

      Cronk 23 try assists (about 1 a game)
      Croft 3 (about 1 a game)

      Cronk 9 tries (less than one every two games)
      Croft 4 tries (1 per game)

      Cronk 13 forced drop outs (just over 1 every two games)
      Croft 6 (more than one per game)

      Cronk 9 line breaks (less than one every two games)
      Croft 3 line breaks (almost 1 per game)

      Small sample size, but remind me again why it will come down to just two halfbacks?

      • January 9th 2018 @ 9:35am
        Greg Ambrose said | January 9th 2018 @ 9:35am | ! Report

        The most important stat is that no team has gone back to back since 92-3. If the Storm can win after the the added burden of the World cup and its energy sapping effect along with losing Cronk and some forwards then it will be a special achievement.

        A fair number of teams have looked likely to defend their title mid season but really hit the wall like the Sharks did and this will be very interesting again.

        • January 9th 2018 @ 10:55am
          Peter Phelps said | January 9th 2018 @ 10:55am | ! Report

          Greg, the only thing for sure is that back to back stat will get broken sometime, If you think about it, the storm were just 5 minutes away (in the 2016 final) from having broken it this year. It will happen and if Croft fires ……..

          • January 9th 2018 @ 11:23am
            Greg Ambrose said | January 9th 2018 @ 11:23am | ! Report

            It will get broken sometime Peter for sure and just as sure is that all the ramblings on forums about the season ahead are a bit of harmless fun but rarely have any sort of predictive powers especially if the discussion involves a lot of teams.

            If history is any sort of guide then the Eagles are set to challenge for the crown in the next 2 or 3 years but it is not a given.

          • January 9th 2018 @ 11:56pm
            Stormer said | January 9th 2018 @ 11:56pm | ! Report

            Couldn’t agree with you more Peter. Croft is a future super star. Definitely a great chance to go back to back.

        • January 9th 2018 @ 11:51am
          BA Sports said | January 9th 2018 @ 11:51am | ! Report

          Agree but I don’t think we can compare the Sharks key players and the Storm’s. Since 92-93 (i think) the only team with two future immortals in it has been the Melbourne Storm so if anyone is a chance…

          Never write off a champion and the Storm have 2 of them.

        • January 10th 2018 @ 8:17am
          mushi said | January 10th 2018 @ 8:17am | ! Report

          That stat has a bit of noise though right? You’ve got the deliberate disregard of super league (the broncos were the best team IMO and I hate the broncos) and also need to not look to closely at the preceding data set or you get another 4 repeats within a decade.

          I’m also yet to find anyone happy to give me even something like 24-1 odds each year on the returning premiers suggesting we don’t really believe in the data

        • January 11th 2018 @ 1:45am
          Fraser said | January 11th 2018 @ 1:45am | ! Report

          Since 1993, no Melbourne Cup international runner having their first start had won the race. That statistic held until 2017, when Rekindling tore that record to shreds. There’s no reason Melbourne Storm can’t do the same. They also have a massive advantage over past premiership winners in that they will be hosting the World Club Challenge, instead of the draining trip to the UK just prior to the start of the NRL season.

          Storm to go back to back. Roosters runners up.

      • Roar Rookie

        January 9th 2018 @ 9:36am
        Joe said | January 9th 2018 @ 9:36am | ! Report

        I think it definitely comes down to 3 halfbacks. If Croft can manage those kind of stats all season the Storm will be right up there again this season. I think he a better running game than Cronk but its the kicking and game managment which will be the difference in attack Defence is where the big difference might come because Cronk is a great defender and doesn’t need a ‘minder’ in defence. Croft didn’t start the 2017 season in the halves when Billy was out because Riley Jacks was a better defender. Croft seems to have worked on that part of his game because he was targeted by the Saifiti twins in the game against Newcastle and held his own defensively. The Knights game was the only game he played with Cam Smith and Slater and his stats in that game was phenomenal. Definitely looking forward to seeing him in action.

        • January 9th 2018 @ 11:57pm
          Stormer said | January 9th 2018 @ 11:57pm | ! Report

          Spot on buddy.

        • January 10th 2018 @ 7:45am
          Rod said | January 10th 2018 @ 7:45am | ! Report

          After watching Cam Smith in Origin 3, it was like watching King Wally, Darren Lockyer and JT rolled into one, It possibly the greatest individual 20-30mins I have seen by a player. As good as Cronk has been he is not in Smith’s class as a player. If Smith is injury free he can cover any of Crofts short comings as a rookie player.

          Storm and Cowboys are two best teams on paper right now. The Roosters I don’t know got a million dollar backline. The forward pack lacks depth and looks very underpowered by Roosters standards

      • January 9th 2018 @ 11:21am
        Albo said | January 9th 2018 @ 11:21am | ! Report

        Spot on BA ! I can’t believe that the Storm aren’t raging favourites to go back to back. They still have a couple of future immortals in the spine in Smith & Slater, a handy SOO number 6 in Munster and a kid of enormous potential already blooded in Croft, who will fit neatly into the Cronk role between these other three champion players. Croft already looks like a Cronk clone, but with more speed and natural ability. Only thing in question is his experience & attitude, and with Bellamy & Smith managing him, you know that will be right.
        As for the premise that Cronk & Thurston hold the key to a Chooks or Cows premiership, I think both players have plenty of queries around them. Cronk has never played without Smith & Slater or coach Bellamy running the operation, and with aging legs and new combinations to be formed, he will have his work cut out being as effective as he has been at the Storm. As for JT, he is now on his last legs and injuries have finally caught up with him. His body will again be tested with his style of play, and how the team functions with the new found management role for Michael Morgan will be interesting. I suspect one of these players will have to take a back seat in the game management role whilst both are on the field.

      • January 9th 2018 @ 3:44pm
        Peter Phelps said | January 9th 2018 @ 3:44pm | ! Report

        B.A.

        I have been saying for a while that Cooper is on the downward slide and I think your numbers on him partly reflect that.

        Bellamy quickly pulled out of the race for Pearce and has made no attempt to find another no.7 since. That tells me that the coach has faith in Croft and if Bellamy has faith in him, watch out.

        • January 9th 2018 @ 11:56pm
          Stormer said | January 9th 2018 @ 11:56pm | ! Report

          Agree again.

    • January 9th 2018 @ 9:40am
      paul said | January 9th 2018 @ 9:40am | ! Report

      and of course Ben Hunt and the best pack of forwards in the competition won’t be a factor either? I hope pundits keep ignoring the Dragons this year, they’re certs to make to 8 and could give the comp a big shake. Croft also looked pretty sharp at the Storm, so there’s four number 7s who should have a big impact on the comp – oh yeah, Cleary the NSW SOO half in waiting. That makes 5.

      I’m not sold on your comments about Easts and Cronk. Easts did not have “an excellent season” last year, only the Storm did because they were the only side who showed any consistency week to week. Easts only look a better side on paper with Cronk penciled in at 7, assuming they have their best team on the paddock. They’ve shed a lot of talented players to get him and Tedesco and there’s not much left in reserve if they have any run with injuries. Their big bloikes aren’t getting any younger either and there don’t seem to be many stepping him to take their place at Easts.

    • January 9th 2018 @ 10:03am
      KingCowboy said | January 9th 2018 @ 10:03am | ! Report

      As much as I love JT and what he has done for us up in the North, his time is over as our best player. Morgan is going to be the best player in the NRL this year by a mile if he doesn’t have a major injury. This young man has always had the talent but he went from a great player to a champion player last year.

      Last year was the most enjoyable season for me as we played with heart and never game up in any game but this year the pressure is on and it is our P’Ship to lose We have really lost no one from last years team and pick up McLean from the storm and we get JT and Big Thumper back. As great as Cronk is and still will be, our forwards will dominate the Roosters.

      I can’t wait for the Footy to start.

      • Roar Rookie

        January 9th 2018 @ 10:25am
        Joe said | January 9th 2018 @ 10:25am | ! Report

        I expect JT to come back hungrier than ever same as Billy did last year. A year off to rest up and recover from all those niggling injuries he’s been carrying, watch your team lose the GF…pretty much exactly what happened to Billy and boy did he have a season in 2017 when he returned. Expecting no less from an absolute legend like JT.

      • January 9th 2018 @ 4:45pm
        Peter Phelps said | January 9th 2018 @ 4:45pm | ! Report

        ” it is our P’Ship”

        think you will find that it is the Storm’s premiership and will be right up until at least the 1st week in October.

        Don’t count your chickens.

      • January 9th 2018 @ 6:34pm
        Jacko said | January 9th 2018 @ 6:34pm | ! Report

        King Cowboy I doubt Morgan will even be the best in his team let alone the whole comp…..Taumalolo made record metres ever last year and without that Morgan would not have been able to do what he did off the back of it

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