Fresh Cronk benefits from unlucky break
The broken arm that gave his understudies a sneak peek at his Maroons throne may prove to be the blessing in disguise for Cooper Cronk to spearhead another Melbourne Storm title shot after his masterful display against the Broncos in his side's 30-8 win at Suncorp on Friday night.
Cronk's performance in providing kicks for two Storm tries, laying on another for Ryan Hoffman, scoring one himself after a wonderful second effort on the play and having a second denied him by a stunning try-saving tackle by Josh Hoffman gave Broncos opposite Ben Hunt the perfect template of what's required to become a three-time Dally M Halfback of the Year.
Lachlan Maranta's clean-sheet from six days prior was forgotten inside 10 minutes as Cronk's piercing cross-field kicks put the Broncos winger under all sorts of pressure and allowed the Storm to surge to a 12-0 lead after just 15 minutes.
And such is his class, once Cronk had control of the football game he and his teammates were never going to let it go, running out 30-8 victors.
During his absence with injury the Storm won just two from five games and coach Craig Bellamy agreed with Channel Nine commentator Darren Lockyer's comments that Cronk's broken left arm suffered in the opening 10 minutes of Origin I may yet prove to be a blessing in disguise.
"We didn't want him to get hurt in Origin and miss six weeks and be missing four or five club games or whatever it was, you're always going to struggle when you haven't got your halfback but having said that, it probably is [a blessing in disguise] now," Bellamy said.
"He's probably freshened up a little bit even though whatever he could do he was training as hard as he could, that's just Cooper Cronk. But I think Darren's right, that it probably has helped to freshen him up and hopefully we can keep him fresh and try and freshen these guys up too."
The standard Cronk delivers on the field stems from the example he sets on the training park and two-try beneficiary on Friday night, Ryan Hoffman, gave an insight into the perfection his No.7 seeks from not only himself but those around him.
"Cooper's a perfectionist and he expects that from us and that's the way it should be," Hoffman told NRL.com.
"We should be doing things 100 per cent right all the time, we should be practising perfectly and if we're not we set out to rectify it straight away. For example, if 'Coops' puts in a bad kick doing a drill, he'll grab three balls straight away straight after and put three kicks right on the mark. We need to do that to fix it straight away and that's how Cooper leads and we can all come off the back of him."
It's what coach Bellamy has come to expect from Cronk ever since asking the former utility to step into the breach created by the departure of Matt Orford following the 2005 season but has challenged his younger players to uphold those standards.
"He's very particular about his preparation and being the position that he plays he's very particular about how we prepare as a team," said Bellamy. "He's quite demanding on people but having said that [Cameron] is too as is Billy and we just need a few of those younger blokes to help drive the standards.
"There's probably been a bit of a void there over the past 18 months because we've lost a lot of middle-tier players and a lot of young guys have come through to replace them but all those guys set a great example. I've probably said it way too often but I feel very fortunate to be able to coach these guys."
Although it was another gruelling Origin campaign for the Storm contingent of Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Ryan Hoffman, Bellamy is pleased with the mental and physical state of his Origin representatives compared to this time 12 months ago.
"I think they've come out quite good to be honest with the way they've been playing," said Bellamy. "Our Origin players always play good, to be quite honest, they're never a burden on the side. Even when they're not quite at their best they're still giving us better than what other players will.
"Cameron, I wanted to give him a rest there tonight but he didn't want to come off and Billy and 'Hoffy' are the same.
"Cooper is probably a little bit fresher than the other three because he's obviously missed a bit of footy. At the end of the day we don't want him missing footy but it probably is a bit of a godsend for us."