Ennis's praise for departing legend Cronk
On the field they were the greatest of rivals, but premiership-winning hooker Michael Ennis has nothing but respect for Storm halfback Cooper Cronk who is preparing for his final game in the purple jersey in this Sunday's grand final against the Cowboys.
The pair had some terrific battles over the years, with Ennis's Sharks claiming the ultimate prize with a heart-stopping 14-12 win over Melbourne in last year's decider.
The niggly No.9 played a key role in the win as he got under the skin of the Storm's playmakers – something he did better than anyone else in the competition – to bid farewell to the game in style.
While Cronk's future beyond 2017 remains unclear, we do know his glittering career in the Victorian capital is about to end after 14 years of incredible service.
No one in the game has taken more care in their preparation than the 33-year-old, and it would be fitting for the champion halfback to go out a winner five years after he claimed the Clive Churchill Medal in Melbourne's emotional win over Ennis's Bulldogs.
Ennis played with and against some elite halves throughout his career but paid special tribute to Cronk's work ethic and his ability to execute a game plan like no one else.
"He's a reflection of the Melbourne Storm culture," Ennis told NRL.com on the Dally M red carpet.
"He's built his game on hard work and persistence and there's probably no better player in the competition that can go out there and execute a game plan and stay on task like Cooper.
"Cameron (Smith) and Billy (Slater) are very creative, but Cooper is just that backbone in terms of staying disciplined, kicking into corners and being methodical in how he goes about things, and that comes from his preparation."
Melbourne will start as raging favourites against North Queensland, and while Ennis is tipping them to go all the way he believes there is a way of limiting their 'Big Three'.
Instead of sitting back in awe, the former hooker says the Cowboys must attack the head of the snake in a bid to rattle Melbourne's methodical machine.
That's the approach he took during last year's grand final with plenty of kick pressure and niggle in the ruck against some of the game's greatest players.
"It's because of how good they are and the impact they can have on the game," Ennis said of his tactics.
"You've got to attack a team's strength and if you can somewhat disrupt or break up that cohesion that they've got in their side then you'd do whatever you can.
"The flipside to Cooper's strength is that you know what you're going to get, in that he doesn't go too far outside those boundaries too often because he is so diligent with Craig's game plan.
"If you can shut him down or frustrate him or get in his face, it does go a long way to disrupting the Melbourne Storm attack because of how influential he is."
Despite their fierce battle on the field, Ennis revealed that Cronk came over to congratulate him after last year's epic encounter in a show of respect that has stayed with him for 12 months.
The Storm have moved on from last year's heartbreak, and according to Ennis, what goes around will come around after Cronk's show of sportsmanship.
"He came and spoke to me afterwards and congratulated me on my career," he said.
"I've said during the week that it doesn't surprise me that they're back in the grand final 12 months later because good things happen to good people.
"Craig Bellamy is a great person and so is Cameron, and speaking of Cooper, things tend to come back so he deserves to be in this position."