Kevin Walters shocked by Cooper Cronk's rep retirement
Queensland Maroons coach Kevin Walters admits he was shocked when Cooper Cronk called him to tell him the news of his representative retirement.
Although Cronk officially announced he was hanging up the boots from all forms of representative rugby league during Australia's World Cup celebrations on Saturday night, the 34-year-old revealed he had rung Walters a day earlier to tell him his plans.
Walters picked up the phone thinking it was Cronk ringing to tell him that he was going to play on for another year, but alas it was the opposite and Walters now faces a halves conundrum in 2018.
Cronk's decision means that both he and Maroons legend Johnathan Thurston have retired from Queensland duties within the space of the year, leaving the Maroons without the halves pairing that has guided them to glory since 2012.
That was the year Cronk slotted into the Queensland halfback role to replace the retired Darren Lockyer, and now it is time for another young Maroons half to step up.
Anthony Milford, Cameron Munster, Ben Hunt and Michael Morgan all played a part for Queensland in their 2017 series victory, while Daly Cherry-Evans still remains on Walters's radar despite being exiled from the State of Origin arena after a poor showing in 2015.
"I was a little bit shocked. I thought he was going to play on obviously, but he decided to go a different way," Walters told NRL.com
"In one way it is sad that he won't be wearing a Maroons jumper anymore, but on the other side of the coin is that it opens up an opportunity for one of our younger halves to come in and really put their stamp at Origin level in one of those jumpers. It's pretty exciting stuff I reckon.
"Michael Morgan and Cam Munster have come on leaps and bounds over the past 12 months but we also have other options.
"We've got Ben Hunt, 'DCE' and Anthony Milford as well. There's some good young experienced talent waiting in line for an opportunity so I guess it all depends on next year and how they all start their respective seasons."
Morgan looks to have the edge over the other contenders after an outstanding year in which he guided the North Queensland Cowboys to a grand final without Thurston, and performed superbly at five-eighth for the Kangaroos in the World Cup.
The 25-year-old made it his mission to study Cronk during Australia's World Cup campaign, and Walters said it was a similar story during Queensland's Origin camp this year.
Walters told NRL.com that all the young halves in the Maroons' squad listened and learned off Cronk throughout Origin camp, with Queensland's coach believing that Cronk's legacy will live on.
"All the great players to wear a Maroon jersey have left their legacy on the team, including Cooper. They probably aren't aware of what they're doing, but they are actually really good on-field coaches in and around training and while they are playing," he said.
"I think players learn a lot from each other, especially with their habits and how they do things.
"Cooper is a great model for any young half coming through or even any player currently playing in the halves. He was your classic No.7 wasn't he? I'm sure that Cameron, Michael, Anthony and Ben Hunt have all learnt things off him during his Queensland career."