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Storm can handle loss of Cronk: Smith

By Daniel Pace,

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    Cameron Smith is confident Melbourne can cope with the loss of dynamic halfback Cooper Cronk when the Storm take on NRL premiers St George Illawarra next round.

    Cronk is expected to miss the clash with the Dragons and the following week’s blockbuster against second-placed Manly after undergoing scans on an ankle injury suffered late in Saturday night’s 40-16 victory over Gold Coast.

    He has been cleared of any structural damage but has major bruising around the ankle.

    The Queensland and Australia utility’s injury has cast a dark shadow over the Storm’s run to the NRL finals, which begins against Wayne Bennett’s struggling Dragons at AAMI Park on Friday night.

    Cronk left the field late in the match after scoring a hat-trick of tries and terrorising the Titans with his accurate long-range kicks.

    The 27-year-old was instrumental in the Storm’s 24-point victory, which equalled a club record of 11 consecutive wins.

    But the seven-tries-to-three triumph was also soured by injuries to winger Justin O’Neill (back) and centres Maurice Blair (shoulder) and Dane Nielsen (ankle).

    O’Neill’s season is over after he suffered a transverse process fracture, while Blair irritated previous surgical repairs and Nielsen suffered bad bruising.

    Blair and Nielsen will be assessed and are chances of playing against the Dragons.

    Fullback Billy Slater stepped his way through the Titans’ ragged defence to set up Cronk’s first try in a 98-metre movement on Saturday night.

    The halfback then bagged two tries early in the second half to put the match beyond doubt.

    “Obviously we’ll miss him,” captain Smith said about his halfback.

    “He’s our No.7 and he does a great job. But we’ve got a mentality at our club that no matter who comes in, they have a role to do and they have to do it the best they can.

    “If Cooper’s out for this week or two weeks, whoever comes out and plays that role, we expect them to get the job done.”
    Titans coach John Cartwright said Cronk’s kicking game was irreplaceable.

    “Cronk’s got the best kicking game in the league,” Cartwright said.

    “His long kicking game really destroyed us.

    “He put us into the in-goal three or four times and came up with drop-outs that normally just are not on.

    “When he’s kicking from halfway and he’s still able to land the ball on a dime, that can be the difference between winning and losing, especially in big games.”

    The Storm haven’t lost since May 14 (against Canberra Raiders) but Titans halfback Preston Campbell believes they are beatable.

    “I think you just have to play like them,” he said.

    “If you’re persistent and in an wrestle with them for 80 minutes, you’re a good chance of beating them.”

    © AAP 2018

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