William Botoulas, Melbourne Correspondent, NRL.com
The words of Melbourne Storm’s pre-season doubters have fallen on deaf ears according to star halfback Cooper Cronk.
With a crop of senior players all over 30 and with apparently no obvious talent coming through, a slide down the ladder was predicted for the side in the southern state.
Yet Cronk insists those concerns have failed to breach the walls of AAMI Park.
“I’m 30, I’m happy to be 30, I’m not afraid of it or anything like that,” he said, with his team sitting a perfect 2-0.
“What inspires me to be a better player and a better person is not what the critics say.
“Playing for this club, its supporters and the people here is an inspiration to get better. So as long as you’ve got the motivation to do that, age is just a number and it is no limit.”
Despite Cronk being adamant there is still plenty of good football left in the senior group, this is a key period of development for the Storm. Players such as Ben Hampton, Kenneth Bromwich and Young Tonumaipea have all shown plenty of promise in the early rounds.
The importance of nurturing and developing this next generation is pivotal to the club’s pursuit of a fourth consecutive top four finish – an aspect that is not lost on the club’s elder statesmen.
“There are probably a few question marks about our football team for the first time in a few years,” Cronk said.
“Its not only up to the young guys but also the senior guys to provide an environment where those young players feel comfortable and can play their best football.
“It’s a challenge that I am certainly excited about, to develop the younger guys and improve their skills and give them the opportunity to play for Melbourne Storm for a long period of time.”
Now in his 11th first-grade season, Cronk announced his return to the Storm with a game-winning drop goal in the club’s Round 2 win over Penrith. It was his first competitive hit-out of the year after shoulder surgery hampered him throughout the pre-season.
But Cronk was pleased with how the shoulder has pulled up from last Saturday night.
“It was fine, a couple of bumps and had to do a couple of extra recovery sessions this week but it was fine,” he said.
“It was a good decision probably not playing the Manly game, it allowed me to get a bit more volume in, strengthen the joint even further so I didn’t have to manage it further over the next few weeks.”
Coming off the back of an outstanding 2013 season which included the Dally M Medal and a World Cup win, it would be easy to rest on one’s laurels. Yet rest isn’t something that sits comfortably with the Queenslander.
“I think there are a few areas in terms of my running and passing game that I am looking to get better at,” Cronk said.
“As long as you keep improving your skills, develop as a player, I think that improvement is always on the up.”
A scary prospect for the rest of the competition, starting with the Newcastle Knights this Monday night.