'They're going to smash me': Cronk stares down Storm for the first time
Roosters halfback Cooper Cronk expects to be 'smashed, smashed again and whacked in the back' as he stares down the three Melbourne champions who know his game better than anyone else in rugby league.
After 300-plus Storm outings that saw Cronk share the field, premierships and even living quarters with Billy Slater and Cameron Smith, this Friday he confronts the pair and long time coach Craig Bellamy for the first time since joining the Roosters in one of the highest profile moves of the last decade.
When Cronk announced his exit from Melbourne last year to join partner Tara Rushton in Sydney, he dubbed Smith, Slater and Bellamy the "real Big Three" and himself a "distant relative" in terms of contributions to the Victorian club.
Fourteen seasons, four grand final wins, dual Dally M medals and countless man of the match performances in purple suggest otherwise.
But Cronk expects to be treated like an unwelcome cousin by his former teammates when the Roosters take their 'home' game to Adelaide, conceding that Bellamy will likely have a bullseye pinned to the one-time favourite Storm son.
"They'll come and put some pressure on me, I'll get whacked in the back a couple of times and I'll get up," Cronk said on Monday.
"I'll catch the ball again, they'll do that again and they'll just keep doing it. They know how I play, and I'm not going to change too much.
"There's been different changes to my game since coming here but am I going to bring something out of the box? No. I'm going to still do what I do, every day for the last 14, 15 years, but I'm just going to try and do it for a little bit harder, a little bit longer than I normally do.
"I know that they're going to be coming for the 80 minutes… There will be a bit of niggle, a bit of banter.
"They'll smash me, I'll get up. I'll get smashed again. All's fair in love and war as they say."
Despite boasting over 1000 games at NRL and representative level between the three of them, Cronk, Slater and Smith have never once played against each other.
From day dot with Melbourne's feeder side Norths Devils, where they were each signed on bargain basement $5000 deals and Cronk's eyes used to flash before his eyes as Smith drove him to training, the trio has lined up on the same side of halfway.
With Bellamy shaping their careers the entire way, Cronk concedes it will be a rare first for him in the game, and one that will see lifelong friendships put on hold for 80 minutes.
"I've never done it before," Cronk said of taking on Smith and Slater, the league legends he has known since their teenage days.
"Besides the competitive games of one-on-one at training, where it does get super competitive. I imagine when there's two points up for grabs it's going to go to another level.
"I've had a couple of texts and phone calls with Craig throughout the year. There's that strange awkwardness knowing the game's coming around.
"I really respect Craig as a person, as a footy mentor in terms of what he's done. Fortunately or unfortunately depending on the way you look at it, we've got to go out and play football on Friday night. I will do that, he will do that and we'll all be friends afterwards."