Maroons prepare to unveil Cronk clone
As the Queensland under-20s players filed from the training field at Sanctuary Cove on Sunday having played the Washington Generals to the Maroons' Harlem Globetrotters in an opposed session, one young man lingered.
While teammates dived into the esky on the sideline to dig out Powerades and protein-based drinks Brodie Croft stayed on the field to carry out some extra skill work as Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk did the same around him.
When their work was done Croft picked his moment to pick the brain of Cronk, the pair spending a good five minutes centre-field dissecting the finer points of halfback play.
For many of the young Queenslanders in the under-20s team this was a rare opportunity to run opposite one of the greatest rugby league teams ever assembled but for Croft it reinforced again why he chose to sign with Melbourne in the first place.
The 18-year-old was fast-tracked into the Storm's NRL system as soon as he arrived for pre-season training last November and has since gone on to make an impressive debut against the Dragons in Round 15 and now earn his first Queensland representative jersey.
Croft is one of five Melbourne-contracted players lining up for Queensland in Wednesday night's main curtain-raiser at ANZ Stadium and told NRL.com he never lets a chance go by to learn from of the game's greatest players.
"When I first went down there you're star-struck a bit because you've never met these guys," said Croft, who hails from the Highfields Eagles club north of Toowoomba.
"These are guys you've been watching as a kid grow up on the TV screen and now you're brushing shoulders with them and calling them by their nicknames.
"It's certainly something that I had to get my head around but now that I'm here I'm just enjoying the experience and see where it goes.
"You try not to take it for granted but because we're with them so much sometimes you can just see them as your mates. Every now and again you pinch yourself and take a step back and you realise that these guys are the highest level of the game and you're brushing shoulders with them and spending so much time with them."
Like Cronk, Croft completed his schooling at a famed Brisbane rugby school and said the lure of learning off one of the game's premier No.7s was a major factor in his decision to sign with Melbourne full-time for the 2016 season.
"I know my game-plan and how I play and I knew that linked in well with how the Melbourne Storm played," said Croft, who will partner North Queensland's Cooper Bambling in the Queensland halves on Wednesday night.
"Their professionalism, the culture at the club, I've been in their junior systems for the last couple of years beforehand so I got a little glimpse of what they're like and I just knew that was going to be best for me.
"Certainly with 'Coops' being there as the seven, he'll go down in history as one of the greatest halves and the way he approaches the game is certainly something that I look up to.
"I've tried to take as much off him as I can so that's one of the big reasons I went down there."
Queensland under-20s hooker Jake Turpin is being groomed as the possible successor to Cameron Smith at the Storm – complete with left-foot kicking game – and his combination with Croft will be important as Queensland try to break the Blues' four-year stranglehold in the under-age fixture.
Having started the season in the Holden Cup Croft and Turpin have both spent time playing for Easts Tigers and Sunshine Coast respectively in the Intrust Super Cup this season and are seen as the keys in carrying out coach Kurt Wrigley's game plan on Wednesday night.
"Brodie and Jake Turpin are guys that train in the full-time systems and those guys are going to be very important for us," said Wrigley.
"I've given them one basic structure but I've given both of those guys the green light that if they see things and they've got little combos with each other they can do them."
As they were for his NRL debut in Wollongong a month ago Croft's parents and two brothers will make the trip to ANZ Stadium to watch him in action as he realises every young footballer's dream of playing on the Origin stage.
"Through the juniors you're always here and thereabouts but I'm certainly not one of these kids who has played Queensland all through 13s upwards," said Croft.
"This is my first Queensland jersey so definitely looking forward to it."