The start of the 2019 NRLW season is just over three weeks away.
It was supposed to be your week, Cooper Cronk. Your week.
It was the best narrative of the season. One of the greatest halfbacks of the modern era announces his retirement and the plaudits flow.
Because of course. Because of all the things I have hated in years of hating Melbourne and Queensland, you can’t hate Cooper Cronk.
The man is a class act – every sinew in his body.
But after making his name catching the ball from one Immortal and passing it to another Immortal, Cronk wasn’t wearing purple when he said he was hanging up the boots.
He was a Rooster – and the dude who got booted to accommodate him at Bondi is now a Knight.
So Cronk says he’s quitting and four days later he faces off against Mitchell Pearce.
Except then it was decided Cronk needed to be ‘rested’.
Seriously, what a massive middle finger to the opposition – basically saying this game isn’t worthy of our champion halfback’s time (if you’d like to read more of me being offended on behalf of my home town, I’ve basically made a career out of it).
Thus, rather than seeing Pearce take on the fella who replaced him at the Roosters, it was instead Pearce taking on the bloke he replaced in the Hunter.
Poor, poor Brock Lamb.
Two years ago, the Maitland junior was touted as the future of his home club. He had to weather the shit storm that was 2016, making his first-grade debut (as fate would have it) against the Roosters, in a 38-0 shellacking – a game in which one M. Pearce starred for Trent Robinson’s team.
Yet by the end of 2017, Lamb was pulling the strings as the red and blue bulldozed a Parramatta side that ended the season in the top four.
He wasn’t the finished product by any means, but the talent was there. He just needed time.
Then Cronk made his move to the Harbour City, Pearce decided it was time to move on, and Tanya Brown’s famous butter chicken landed the Knights yet another superstar (seriously, the woman’s culinary skills are better than any third-party agreement).
Nevertheless, I was a bit miffed by it all. We’d invested all this time into a local junior and now we were ready to chuck it out in favour of Junior’s Junior?
So I did what anyone with half a brain should do: consulted someone far wiser.
Over a few beers, I asked Naggy – yes, I know Naggy from The Joust (I own many leather-bound books) – what he made of it.
His explanation was pretty straightforward. Brock Lamb showed plenty of promise, but Mitchell Pearce was (and is) a premiership winner and representative player.
Newcastle could hang around for a few years, hoping Lamb might become a week in, week out match winner, or we could just have one now.
Fast-forward to May 24, 2019 and wow.
Pearcey turned in his fifth-straight man of the match performance, while Lamb had a club debut to forget.
In the younger man’s defence, it wasn’t supposed to go down like that. Lamb was fed to the wolves (sorry, sorry, but I had to).
Easts were swiftly made to regret their decision to rest Cronk – presumably so he’d be fresh to steer them through the Origin period when Luke Keary was surely set to be called up by Brad Fittler – when Keary was taken off after a Daniel Saifiti bone-rattler just eight minutes in.
Suddenly, Lamb went from having the role of impact player to being the guy calling the shots.
Yeah…he needs more time. He’s 22, that’s not unreasonable.
But Mitchell Pearce? Um, again, wow.
Junior is playing out of his skin.
And didn’t Pearce send a message when he crashed over on the stroke of halftime, leaping to his feet and kissing the Knights emblem on his jersey?
“Oh, Cooper Cronk is the best team player you’ve ever had, Trent? Cool, cool. Where’s he at the moment?”
About as subtle as a sledgehammer, which is just the way rugby league fans like it. Hands down, the second-best moment of the night.
Number one? That’d be the aftermath of Jared Waerea-Hargreaves apparently doing absolutely nothing wrong when he wasn’t standing square at marker, tackled Kalyn Ponga late and drove his shoulder into the fullback’s head.
The Novocastrians came racing in to make their opinion on the matter clear.
David Klemmer was off the field at the time, but the camera showed him peddling away on an exercise bike. I thought he was going to tear the handlebars off – he was ready to kill his opposite number.
As an aside, Ben Cummins saying “there’s nothing wrong with that” before giving the Roosters the ball following Waerea-Hargreaves’ thug act is an incorrect call the magnitude of which should see someone relegated to reserve grade next week.
It didn’t matter though. As if – at 30-6 – the game wasn’t already decided, Pearce sealed the deal shortly after with a flat bullet ball to Edrick Lee, who crashed over in the corner.
This was Mitchell Pearce’s night and these are Mitchell Pearce’s Knights.
To be honest, I hope he doesn’t get picked for Origin – a purple patch like this makes more sense, if only from a chromatic perspective, if he’s wearing red and blue.
(Honesty sesh here, I wrote the bulk of this on Saturday morning, before bloody everyone who was supposed to be NSW’s halves went down injured – I’ve tried to update it, but it’s Saturday night now and at a certain point I’ve just gotta file my story.)
Besides, Brad Fittler was apparently always going to stick with Nathan Cleary.
But if Freddy was to pick purely on form, Pearce would be the first bloke on his team sheet.
As for Cooper Cronk? Kevvie Walters would kill to have him in maroon come Wednesday week, but he’s retired from rep footy – so I guess the Knights can take his absence as a compliment?
But, really, not turning up on Friday night? Well, it goes from your week to you’re weak.