Cronk to do job for Smith
The Storm will have no shortage of inspiration when they take to the field on Friday night for Cameron Smith's 300th game but there is one man who will perhaps be more motivated than most to make the occasion a memorable one for his mate.
Of the 16 teammates that will play alongside Smith for his milestone game, none will have done so more times than Cooper Cronk.
Their playing careers first crossed paths 15 years ago, playing for Melbourne's Queensland affiliate Brisbane Norths.
Even from those early days Cronk recalls his future skipper as a man you could rely on.
"My first year out of high school playing for Brisbane Norths, we grew up 10 minutes away from one another and he would actually pick me up for six months of the year, drop me off to training and then drop me back home," Cronk said.
"He still asked me for fuel money but that is my first memory. Not much has changed he still lives around the corner from me now so I'm sure he'd still pick me up if I asked for a lift."
Cronk made his Storm debut in 2004, by that time Smith had began showing his worth as a hooker of the future.
In their time together Cronk and Smith have been part of 10 finals series, played in five grand finals, brought five Origin shields home to Queensland and a World Cup for good measure.
"We've obviously played a lot of good football together, had a lot of good times and some good memories," Cronk said.
"300 games is a magical achievement, you can count the games but it is the way he's gone about it. His consistency and the level, he's a special footballer and it is going to be a special night for all the boys involved."
The importance of Friday night's game lies will not only Smith's 300th but the fact their season has hit a downward slide.
Four losses in a row has left them one defeat away from slipping outside the top eight – a prospect that seemed a distant threat six weeks ago when they sat two games inside the top four.
Their toothless attack has been the concern, averaging just 13 points a game during their winless run.
While the panic button has not been hit the Storm are well aware it will be a case of all hands on deck against the Panthers.
"The best way to celebrate is to go out and do your job. I'll be lacing those boots up as tight as I normally do and going out and doing my job for Cameron on Friday night," Cronk said.
"With big games people can be caught up in the celebration and the emotion... That's fine that can be used as an inspiration and a motivator but at the end of the day you win the football game by doing your role.
"It is a massive night for Cameron Smith and his family and hopefully we can play that part in making it a memorable one."
Melbourne will host Penrith at 7.45pm on Friday night at AAMI Park.