Storm set sights on fairytale finish for Cronk
Storm captain Cameron Smith has warned his teammates not to get caught up in the emotion of Cooper Cronk's last game for the club but admits sending him out the ultimate winner in next Sunday's Telstra Premiership Grand Final will provide extra motivation.
Cronk played a leading hand in Melbourne's 30-0 Preliminary Final win over the Broncos on Friday night in his last game for the Storm at AAMI Park, while with his future still undecided Billy Slater scored twice to move past Steve Menzies into second position on the all-time try-scorers' list.
There is the very real prospect that next Sunday's season decider against either the Roosters or the Cowboys will be the last appearance for two of the greatest champions of the game but Smith said that the desire to send them out with a premiership ring can't cloud the team's preparation.
"I'm really pleased for him to be in a grand final now. I'm glad we get another opportunity to play together one more game and it would be nice to send him out a winner. That would be ideal," Smith said.
"You talk about fairytales, it would be one but unfortunately fairytales don't happen all the time. We've got to make it happen for him next week and we'll be doing our very best to do that.
"Everyone's aware of what next week is. It's an opportunity for everyone to go out and play well and an opportunity to win a premiership for our club but at the same time we know it's Cooper's very last game in a Melbourne Storm jersey.
"There's no doubt that we'd all love for him to finish as a winner, finish on top here at this club no matter what he's going to do next year, but speaking from experience, while emotion is good in sport if you manage it well, if you get a little bit too emotional about things you tend to forget about what you actually need to do in those 80 minutes.
"We need to manage that next week and I think we'll manage it well."
If Friday night is anything to go by it might be the coach, Craig Bellamy, who struggles most to keep his emotions in check after admitting that the reality of Cronk's last game in Melbourne as a Storm player hit him hard in the opening minutes of the match.
"I was a little bit on edge there for the first 15 minutes of the first half. It's something that I knew was coming but all of a sudden it's here and he ain't going to play here again in the purple jumper," Bellamy said.
"I found that a little bit hard to handle at the start, he handled it a lot better than me.
"It was a big night for Cooper. He didn't want to make it a big night but he's been such a wonderful player for our club and such a wonderful clubman for our club.
"He helps a lot off the field with our younger players, he's very giving of his time to younger players off the field and for him to play his last game here, I found that quite emotional myself."
The emotions of playing in a grand final again will be somewhat different for Slater who had to sit on the sideline 12 months ago and watch his teammates go down 14-12 to the Sharks as he nursed a shoulder that threatened to end his career.
His place in rugby league history was cemented further on Friday night when he moved into second position behind Ken Irvine as the game's greatest try-scorers but Bellamy believes it is the chance to play in another grand final that will mean most to the champion fullback.
"I just know with Billy how much last year hurt him," Bellamy said.
"He missed 18 months and he missed a big game last year and that's why [Smith] plays, that's why Cooper plays and that's why Billy plays.
"They want to play in big games and to see him go out there tonight and score a couple of tries and get a chance to go back to the big dance again, that's a great story.
"He's worked so hard to get back to where he is. People outside don't know how hard he's worked and how hard he continues to work to be able to play each weekend.
"It's a great thing that he's going back there. It was a nice way to send Cooper out here and we're all so grateful that those two and [Smith] have played for our club."