Cronk commits future to Melbourne
Melbourne's 'Big Three' will stay together for at least another year, with Cooper Cronk inking a deal on Friday that will see the 32-year-old halfback stay at the Storm until the end of the 2018 season.
Since joining the Storm in 2004, Cronk has developed into one of the game's best players, winning a Dally M medal, a Clive Churchill medal and being named Dally M Halfback of the Year four times, as well as representing his country on 28 occasions and his state 19 times.
Cronk said the decision was a tough one to make emotionally, but knew that for his football career to continue, there was only one place for him to play: Melbourne.
"When it comes down to a football point of view, it is a pretty easy answer," Cronk said.
"Melbourne Storm have been great to me, they've basically given me everything that I've got, so hopefully I can repay them with a little bit of love in return."
With Cronk's long-time girlfriend – Fox Sports presenter Tara Rushton – in Sydney, the Storm playmaker admitted the situation he found himself in was a tough one.
"My girlfriend is based in Sydney, and she's brought a lot of positivity and joy and a lot of good times to my life and I thank her for her support," Cronk said.
"It's quite a difficult situation, there's no doubt there was an emotional connection to Sydney, Sydney is where I see my future in terms of post football and family life, but for the meantime the Melbourne Storm is the best decision."
The 293-gamer will be close to 35 when the new contract ends, but admitted his stance on retirement had changed over the past 12 months and he was more than open to playing on in 2019 if the circumstances permit.
"If you had of asked me 12 months ago, I probably would have said it is my last contract," Cronk said.
"But the way I sit here today, I'm in a really good headspace, physically I'm okay and I think I'm playing at an okay level and I'm really enjoying my football, it's probably the most enjoyable year I've had in a long time so anything's possible, a lot can change."
Over the past decade the Storm have been one of rugby league's powerhouse teams on the field, and a lot of their accomplishments have been largely thanks to the Storm's big three, with Cronk, Cameron Smith and Billy Slater leading the way for club over the past 10 seasons.
"I've been grateful, I'm probably the luckiest player to ever lace up a boot to be honest," Cronk said.
"For me to land at Melbourne Storm at the time that I did with arguably one of the greatest coaches of all time and two guys that'll go down as the best positional players in their positions in Cameron and Billy, and for them to influence my career and elevate it to a point that I didn't think was possible and achieve the memories and milestones that we have, I'm pretty fortunate that's for sure."
With all three set to become one-club players at the Storm, the journey isn't over in Melbourne, and Cronk is excited for what the future holds.
"Cameron used to pick me up to go to training at Brisbane Norths, Billy used to come down from Innisvale and we all met and played football, and the rest is history," Cronk said.
"There's no doubt I think we've inspired one another both on and off the field with our performances and as people, we've shared special moments… so it's a nice storyline.
"It's something that we'll hold close to our hearts when time sets on our careers, but as it is now, football is really exciting for all three of us."