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Justin Hodges believes Cooper Cronk will be Melbourne's key man on the run home.

Even with six weeks to go in the regular season it is hard to get a really good gauge on which teams will be there on grand final day but these are the five players I believe will have the greatest influence on their team's chances.

Paul Gallen (Sharks)

We're not 100 per cent sure that this will be Gal's last year this year but I've got no doubt that the impact he has had on that club will be driving the players around him to make sure that he goes out on a good note. He will be saying to his teammates that it's not about him but deep down inside the boys that have been a part of that side for a long time will put in that little bit of extra effort because they know he'd do the same for them. I went through the same thing last year and I told the boys it was about being the best team we could be and then if we were there at the end it would be the icing on the cake. During his career Gal could have left the Sharks and got big money and maybe gone a lot closer to winning a grand final but he's been loyal and now that he's got a great team around him this might be his opportunity to grab one.

Cooper Cronk (Storm)

Everyone knows what Cameron Smith brings but I think the key man for the Storm is Cooper Cronk. Without Billy Slater there, if Cooper can stay injury-free, he's the one that can win them a grand final. In big games like finals or Origin, if you're trying to close out a game there is no one better than Cooper. He has got so much control and so much patience and knows how to shut it down. That's the best asset of his game, he knows how to close those tight ones out. He absorbs all the pressure, stays calm, knows what he needs to do to close it out and nine times out of 10 he's going to do it.

Johnathan Thurston (Cowboys)

I've got no doubt that the Cowboys' position on the ladder this year would be down to 'Thursto' reinforcing the standards they need to meet every day at training if they are to be any chance of going back-to-back. No matter where you're sitting or how far they're in front he'd be driving that message every day to keep working hard and also the one leading from the front. As long as that hamstring injury isn't too much of a concern he's going to be the man for them again.

Michael Morgan is the other player really important to the Cowboys' chances and he's getting to the point where he's almost as valuable as Thursto. He has an opportunity to shine this week against the Storm and it also gives Paul Green an opportunity to see what he can do without Thursto there.

Jarrod Croker and BJ Leilua (Raiders)

I'm going to cheat with the Raiders a little bit and nominate their two centres. BJ Leilua and Jarrod Croker are both very different players but they've been outstanding. BJ has been one of the best centres in the competition all year and brings that x-factor so with him and Jarrod both firing they're in good hands. Because Jarrod seems like a quiet fella he can get lost in the crowd when people talk about the great centres in the game but he knows how to get his job done and in my eyes does deserve more credit than what he gets. At the moment it looks as though he's pretty happy flying under the radar and getting the job done for his team.

Ben Hunt (Broncos)

Of the other teams currently in the top eight I think Benny Hunt's influence on the Broncos is the most important. He needs to get back to running the ball like he was last season and be a bit more selfish in that regard. At the moment he's become more of a passer than a runner and for whatever reason he's looking to set tries up and pass more than what he should. The Broncos are a way better side when he's running the ball but he might just be guilty of trying to be too much of a team player. Anthony Milford is one of the best runners of the ball that I've seen for a very long time and Hunty probably thinks he needs to be the organiser, but if he is more selfish with regards to taking the line on the whole team will get the benefit from it.


My two former clubs go head-to-head on Thursday night and I love the fact that the Roosters are honouring the legendary Arthur Beetson with a special jersey designed by his niece. When I went to the Roosters in 2002 I was lucky enough to live with Artie for 10 months and it was without doubt one of the highlights of my career. He taught me everything that you can think of. We'd sit there and talk football and he always told me to be true to myself and make sure that I played the way I wanted to play. That it didn't matter what people thought of you; as long as you were going out there and competing that's all that mattered. It's a great tribute and I'm sure will inspire the Roosters players to put in that little bit of extra effort for the big fella.




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National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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