Bellamy, Slater ready themselves for Cronk showdown
"Cooper is the most complete half in the NRL."
Premiership-winning coach Craig Bellamy knows Cooper Cronk's game pretty well so there's nobody better qualified to make that call.
They spent 14 years together at Melbourne and although Bellamy coached against Cronk three times – when he was the Queensland utility off the bench in the 2010 State of Origin series – he has never faced him at club level.
That all changes on Friday night at the Adelaide Oval when the Sydney Roosters host the Storm.
It is the hardest Telstra Premiership game for Bellamy since having to coach against Greg Inglis, when he left for South Sydney in 2011.
"Yes, it is," Bellamy told NRL.com, who considers Cronk a friend – like Inglis – as well as a former protege.
"He does the things halves are supposed to but he does them so consistently well."
And that's why Bellamy has been poring over Cronk's game this week, factoring in the nuances he's added to his game since joining the Roosters this year.
"Different coaches watch different things but I watch what influential players do. So I've been watching plenty of Cooper this week."
He's not the only one. Cronk's other good mate Billy Slater has been brushing up and will be watching him like a hawk on Friday.
"When you play against someone, everyone matches up the fullbacks," Slater told NRL.com, as he faces his Origin opposite number again in James Tedesco.
"But as a fullback, your main rival is their kicker. Cooper is their main kicker.
"Look, it will be really weird but he’s a great mate of mine and I’m really happy for him and where he is in his life.
"He got married in the off-season and he's really happy off the field. It will be great to catch up with him. That’s probably what I’m looking forward to more than playing against him."
Bellamy and Slater are not the only ones swallowing hard about this round-16 match-up.
"I'm not really sure how I feel about it, to be honest. I've never been in this position before so I can't rely on experience or anything like that," Cooper told NRL.com.
"There's a lot of respect, admiration and gratitude for those people because without them I wouldn't be in the position I am today but I suppose I've got to put that to one side and play the game with a selfless and competitive attitude because that's what my teammates need from me.
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"While there will be a lot of talk, this game isn't about me, it's about the Roosters. The Roosters football club have been sensational to me so I owe it to them to go out there and compete from the first whistle to the last."
That's a given but Cronk can be forgiven for stashing away some Storm memories somewhere – either in the back of his brain or in the back of his cupboard.
"I've kept a lot of sentimental things from my time at the club but it’s all stored away in bags and kept safe," he said.
"I suppose the best things I've kept from my time in Melbourne are the memories. Games, grand finals, weddings, the boys having kids. They're the things I'm grateful for, more so than football memorabilia."
While leaving Melbourne was a wrench, it also opened a wonderful new episode in NRL football for Cronk.
"I never thought the move would be so enjoyable, seamless and positive.
"I honestly can't say a bad word about the Roosters players, the coaches, the admin staff, the fans and the whole club in general. Every single one of them have helped me walk into training every day with a smile on my face and enjoy the change.
"A lot of people have sacrificed a bit for me to be a Rooster and I don't take that responsibility lightly."
There was only a point in it last time these two met in Adelaide – 25-24 in round 16, 2017.