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Cronk hoping to end 44-year grand final hoodoo

Cooper Cronk was once criticised for channeling LeBron James by organising a press conference to announce a decision on his playing future in 2012 that was so secretive Storm officials didn't know for certain that the star playmaker was staying until shortly before he fronted the cameras.

However, Cronk, who is battling a shoulder injury which has him in severe doubt for the decider, is entitled to feel comfortable about comparisons with James after leading Sydney Roosters to an historic grand final against his former Melbourne team-mates at ANZ Stadium next Sunday.

If the Storm win they will become the first team to claim back-to-back premierships in a united competition for 25 years, while Cronk could become the first player to achieve the feat for different clubs since another former Roosters halfback, Johnny Mayes, who moved to Bondi in 1974 after helping Manly to grand final success in 1973.

According to League Information Services' David Middleton, Mayes is one of just five players to have won grand finals in consecutive years with different clubs, including Manly team-mates John O'Neill and Ray Branighan, who had joined the Sea Eagles from the 1972 premiership winning South Sydney team.

Cronk injured

If he is able to overcome a shoulder injury to steer the Roosters to premiership glory, Cronk will join "Webby" Neill (Souths 1909/Newtown 1910) and George Watt (Balmain 1944/Easts 1945) as the only players to have won a grand final against the club they helped win the previous season.  

The fact so few players have stood on the winner's dais after consecutive grand finals is further proof that the Telstra Premiership is arguably the most even competition in world sport, with the run of 24 years without back-to-back premiers also being the longest in the game's 110-year history.

Since the introduction of the salary cap in 1990, it has become almost impossible for any club to create a dynasty like Canterbury (1980, 84, 85, 88) and Parramatta (1981, 82, 83 and 1986) enjoyed during the previous decade. 

While Melbourne qualified for four grand finals between 2006 and 2009, the club had the two premierships they won during that period stripped by the NRL for salary cap breaches.  

Even if Brisbane's grand final triumphs in the 1997 Super League competition and the first year of the NRL in 1998 are included, the drought of back-to-back champions still eclipses any other major sporting competition in the world.

The closest is Major League Baseball, in which the last team to win consecutive titles was the New York Yankees of 1998-2000, while NFL's most recent back-to-back Super Bowl winners were the New England Patriots in 2003 and 2004.

Manchester United has achieved the feat four times since the establishment of England's Premier League in 1992, including two streaks of three consecutive titles, while Chelsea went back-to-back in the 2004-05 and 2005-06 seasons.

Since the Broncos beat St George in the 1992 and 1993 grand finals, the AFL has had three premiership streaks, with Adelaide (1997-98), Brisbane Lions (2001-03) and Hawthorn (2013-2015) claiming successive flags.

The feat has been achieved seven times in Super Rugby since the Auckland Blues won the first two titles in 1996 and 1997, but never by an Australian team, while Sydney FC have claimed the last two A-League championships and Brisbane won back-to-back grand finals in 2011 and 2012.

Cronk a long shot to play in Grand Final

In Spain's La Liga, Italy's Serie A and Germany's Bundesliga, back-to-back champions are a regular occurrence, while Chicago Bulls (1996-98), LA Lakers (2000-02 and 2009-2010), Miami Heat (2012-13) and Golden State Warriors (2017-18) have won consecutive NBA titles in the last 25 years.

A key difference between some of those competitions and the NRL is the influence a big name signing can have on the fortunes of a team, with star players more likely to change clubs in football as evidenced by Neymar's move from Barcelona to Paris St Germaine this year.

Since telling a televised special on ESPN titled "The Decision" in 2010 that he was "taking my talents to South Beach", James has been the common denominator in the last eight NBA finals  – playing in four for the Heat before returning to Cleveland, who he led to the 2016 title.

Like James, who is now hoping to bring his winning habits to the Lakers, Cronk was by signed by the Roosters to help deliver the club's third premiership since Mayes steered Easts to back-to-back grand final wins in 1974 and 1975.

Since then, the Roosters have played in six grand finals but their only premiership success was in 2002 when Brad Fittler led the club to a 30-8 defeat of the Warriors and 2013 when Sonny Bill Williams returned from rugby union to spearhead a 26-18 triumph against Manly.

With Cronk having played a record seven grand finals for the Storm, he is considered one of the game's most successful players and the Roosters were prepared to cut star halfback Mitchell Pearce to sign him in the belief the 34-year-old could be the difference to their premiership aspirations.

Having helped the Roosters to another grand final, Cronk's big match experience and the influence he can have on his team-mates will be invaluable next Sunday against the Storm and is the reason coach Trent Robinson is willing to consider him playing with limited functionality in his left shoulder.

 

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