I can already feel your rage and angst in me declaring Cooper Cronk as a better halfback than Johnathan Thurston. I also know everything you’re going to say in argument.
Yes, Cooper Cronk played with Cameron Smith, Billy Slater, Greg Inglis, James Tedesco and Luke Keary.
Yes, he most definitely is a system halfback.
Oh yes, after one of the best seasons ever for a halfback, he ultimately choked on the grand final stage, against the Cronulla Sharks.
But I stand by my headline.
After leaving Canterbury, JT made a home in Townsville and quickly proved his worth, leading a dire Cowboys side to a grand final in his first season in a game they ultimately lost.
Over the next decade, Thurston forged an astronomical career. Multiple Dally Ms, multiple golden boot awards, the longest streak of Origin games played and series won by a state, and so many more.
In Melbourne, Cronk led his side to numerous grand final appearances in the same time period (albeit in a dodgy system) and to many other preliminary finals.
From 2005-15, Thurston had appeared in two grand finals, winning one, and only one other preliminary final match (2007).
In the same period, Cooper Cronk appeared in five grand finals, winning three (two stripped) and preliminary finals in 2011 and 2015.
Yes, the Storm sides were better in the earlier part of that decade, but the 2015 Cowboys were better than what Cronk worked with in 2012. In terms of winning, it’s advantage Cronk.
Individual brilliance, it is hard to falter JT. He slotted into sides and adapted to the style or coaching fit.
Cronk, as mentioned, is a mechanical, structural halfback, where he suits a system based around his talents. In terms of the skill each halfback brings individually, JT sneaks past. One apiece.
As far as important to a team goes, these two champions played on numerous Queensland and Australian sides together but the example I want to use is in 2014.
The Maroons were hot off a record eight series wins but Game 1 unravelled quickly when Cronk went down a broken arm.
Thurston was the main man, it was his time to shine and what happened? They went down to NSW 12-8, with Thurston missing both conversions to possibly tie the game up.
Game 2 came around, and Thurston again lost the game, seeing the Maroons lose the series.
No Cronk, and the record is halted. Thurston had his time to impose his will on Origin folklore, but failed to do so.
As for Game 3, Cronk made a miraculous comeback and the Maroons steamrolled the Blues.
Overall importance to a team? Cronk.
Ultimately Cronk’s importance was proven in 2018 and 2019 at his new side, the Roosters.
First, the Bondi boys defeated Cronk’s old side in the ’18 decider, then he guided them to another premiership in ’19 over the Raiders. This man went to two clubs and won multiple premierships at both, whereas JT won a premiership off the bench for the Dogs and then only one in more than a decade in Townsville.
Admittedly, after 2015, his career faltered and Cronk seemed to find a new gear, appearing in four straight grand finals, winning three.
So as far as premierships and team success, our winner is Cronk, but JT takes it on individual successes.
Still, Cronk wins the overall debate 3-2.
Yes, Cronk had the better players and coaches, but he also made those players and coaches successful because of his play.
The most underrated player in the Queensland era of dominance, if you’re asking me to pick a halfback between the two, I am going with Cooper Cronk.
So if JT is apparently a shoo-in Immortal, why isn’t Cronk?