SportThe one thing that will elude Cooper Cronk
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You wouldn't believe the names he has pulled out of the hat.
There will never, ever be consensus on this list, but here goes.
GREATEST RUGBY LEAGUE HALFBACKS
1. Andrew Johns
2. Johnathan Thurston
3. Allan Langer
4. Peter Sterling
5. Ricky Stuart
6. Cooper Cronk
Only one of the players on that list, Johns, is currently an Immortal. Thurston will be.
Langer, Sterling and Stuart - who won a combined 11 premierships - have never had any genuine buzz for elevation into rugby league’s most exclusive club. Though Cronk boasts the greatest longevity, those three are very arguably all greater players than the Storm and Roosters champion.
NRL legend set to announce retirement
Roosters halfback Cooper Cronk is expected to announce his impending retirement from rugby league on Monday. The Sydney Roosters have called a press conference for 10am (AEST). Nine NRL reporter Danny Weidler said that Cronk was set to announce the end of his storied career. https://twitter.com/Danny_Weidler/status/1130225864480677888?ref_src=twsrc%5EtfwCronk, 35, has been widely tipped to retire after this season; the end of his two-year, $1 million per season deal with the Roosters.
That’s one major strike against making Cronk an Immortal. The other is the contenders list from this era.
That list includes Thurston and Cameron Smith, who are certainties. Then Billy Slater and Darren Lockyer, who are highly likely. Then Greg Inglis and Cronk, who may sit fractionally outside the Immortal bracket.
Can you really pick six Immortals from the same Queensland team? Can you even pick four?
The St George era that won 11 consecutive premierships reaped four Immortal nods, including two of the originals: Reg Gasnier and Johnny Raper, then Graeme Langlands and Norm Provan. Four may be the upper limit and it’s difficult to fit Cronk into the top four of that Maroons era. Including Inglis, we are also talking about inclusion for four players from the Storm dynasty.
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Langer's Broncos era reaped four premierships; no Immortals. Sterling's Eels dynasty, four premierships; no Immortals. Stuart's Raiders team, three premierships; one Immortal (Mal Meninga). This Storm era has won just two recognised premierships, while Cronk won his third at the Roosters.
Not a word of this should be perceived as a slight against Cronk. His rugby league career is a towering monument to his immense tenacity.
Cronk played fullback and centre in schoolboys rugby. He played fullback, centre, five-eighth, lock and hooker for Norths Devils as a rugby league junior. He did not play halfback until he got to Melbourne Storm, where he debuted in 2004 as a bench utility who played five-eighth, hooker and lock.
Two seasons later, he was named the Dally M Halfback of the Year. Extraordinary. He has now won that gong five times, along with two Dally M Medals as the NRL’s best player (2013 and 2016).
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The fact that he’s even being discussed with the likes of Johns, Thurston, Langer, Sterling and Stuart is incredible, given where he started.
“You put him up there, just because if you look at all those guys from a talent perspective, he’s not there,” Lockyer told Wide World of Sports’ QLDER.
“But if you look at his record and look at what he achieved, with what he had from a natural ability, you’ve got to stand up and applaud that it’s pretty special what he’s done.”
Cronk was also lauded by Wally Lewis, the sixth Immortal.
“He’s tough, resilient, he’s determined. He never gives up, he’ll play under the greatest pain,” Lewis said.
“He’s a wonderful player and has done just as much for the game of rugby league as he has for his team’s chances every game that he plays.”
Lewis was referring to Cronk’s grand final heroics last year, when he played with a broken shoulder blade as his Roosters side beat his old Melbourne team. It was a moment of glorious folklore for a player often plainly described as the ultimate professional.
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Cooper Cronk was the outsider when he quit the Melbourne Storm for the Roosters, but 18 months later, he is leaving a lasting mark on the Sydney-based club. On Monday, the 35-year-old announced his retirement at season's end, having already clocked up 357 games — the second-highest number in NRL history. "It's been one a hell of a ride," Cronk said at the SCG on Monday. After 14 seasons with the Storm, the Brisbane-born Cronk was ushered into the Roosters' line-up in 2018 to replace the enigmatic halfback, Mitchell Pearce. It was both an upsetting and awkward time for Cronk and his future eastern suburbs team mate.
Analysing that grand final through the Cronk prism is intriguing. On one hand, you could say that Cronk’s immense aura on the field was enough to play a key role in the Roosters’ victory. On the other, you could say that the Roosters, led by Luke Keary in a halfback role, won handily without Cronk really doing anything. It was one of the most courageous performances ever seen in rugby league, yet Cronk had virtually no playing input.
Think back to the 2008 grand final. Smith missed the game through suspension and Melbourne lost 40-0 to a Manly side they beat 34-8 in the previous season’s decider. It’s just one example you could use that Smith is significantly more influential than Cronk.
Make no mistake: Cronk’s record stacks up against nearly anybody’s. His glittering CV is as follows:
- Three premierships (Storm 2012, 2017 and Roosters 2018). He also won the 2007 and 2009 grand finals with Melbourne but the titles were stripped.
- Clive Churchill Medal (2012).
- Two Dally M Medals (2013, 2016).
- Five Dally M Halfback of the Year Awards (2006, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2016)
- Golden Boot Award (2016)
- World Cup winner (2017)
- 38 Test matches
- 22 State of Origin games (seven series wins)
- 357 NRL games (second all-time)
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It’s a mighty list of achievements. But here are some nit-picks, given we’re speaking about a pecking order for the greatest individual players of all time.
Cronk has never won an Origin man of the match award. Lewis heads the list with eight; Smith has seven; Thurston five; Sterling, Langer and Johns four; Stuart and Lockyer three; Slater two; and Inglis one.
Cronk has never won an Origin man of the series award. The Wally Lewis Medal was first awarded in 2004 and Smith has won four; Slater two; Lockyer, Thurston and Inglis one.
Cronk has never won a Queensland player of the series award, though he’s joined in that category by Thurston and Slater. The Ron McAuliffe Medal was first awarded in 1992 and Smith has won four; Langer and Lockyer three; and Inglis one.
Though Cronk has enjoyed match-winning moments for Queensland, most notably his field goal heroics, at no point has he been recognised as the standout player in that Origin dynasty. Which is no shame, but we’re trying to sort Immortals from mere all-time greats.
You can nit-pick every player. Lockyer never won a Dally M Medal. Smith has never won a Clive Churchill.
Then again, even the strong points of Cronk’s resume are not outstanding among exceptional peers. Sterling won two Dally Ms and again, has never been rated a major Immortals contender. Johns won three and Thurston four. Cronk is level with Smith on two, ahead of Langer, Stuart and Slater with one.
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Incidentally, other dual Dally M winners include Mick Potter, Gavin Miller and Jarryd Hayne, none of whom you’ll find on any Immortals short-list.
Iconic coach Phil Gould said this week that he is convinced Cronk will be named an Immortal. He feels that the halfback stands alongside his old Storm teammates Smith and Slater as an equal. Cronk preferred to describe himself as: “The best third-wheel the game has ever seen.”
Cronk’s extraordinary record makes clear that he should be in the Immortal conversation. He is one of the greatest players we’ve seen, no question.
Perhaps this tribute from Roosters coach Trent Robinson gets to the heart of a hair-splitting problem.
"He's the greatest team player I've ever seen."
More than anyone we’ve seen, Cooper Cronk never sought anything from rugby league than to play his role in a winning team. He was not a transformative playmaker like Johns or Thurston, nor the greatest we’ve seen in his position like Smith or Slater. He wasn’t a two-position freak like Lockyer, nor an unforgettable athlete like Inglis. You won’t find many Queenslanders who rate him above Alfie Langer.
Pictures: The Greatest Moments in NRL history
2015 - North Queensland Cowboys vs. Brisbane Broncos
2014 – South Sydney Rabbitohs vs. Canterbury Bulldogs
2013 – Sydney Roosters vs. Manly Sea Eagles
2012 – Melbourne Storm vs. Canterbury Bulldogs
2008 – Manly Warringah Sea Eagles vs. Melbourne Storm
2005 – Wests Tigers vs. North Queensland Cowboys
2004 – Canterbury Bulldogs vs. Sydney Roosters
2003 – Penrith Panthers vs. Sydney Roosters
2001 – Newcastle Knights vs. Parramatta Eels
1999 – Melbourne Storm vs. St George Illawarra Dragons
1997 – Newcastle Knights vs. Manly Warringah Sea Eagles
1989 – Canberra Raiders vs. Balmain Tigers
1975 – Eastern Suburbs vs. St George
1970 – South Sydney Rabbitohs vs. Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles
Cronk was the ultimate team man, which forever assures his standing as a rugby league legend, but perhaps leaves him just short of the ultimate individual accolade.
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