Cameron Smith concedes he was "caught off guard" and never expected Cooper Cronk to leave Melbourne, let alone make a multi-million dollar move to the Roosters that put the two powerhouses of the past decade on a grand final collision course.
Were it not for Cronk's own battle against a severe rotator cuff injury to take the paddock on Sunday, the showdown between the star No.7 and the Storm teammates he guided to seven deciders would be the talk of the town.
That and the supposed cold war between he and Smith that gathered momentum with a seemingly frosty Adelaide Oval handshake the only time they have clashed since Cronk left Melbourne to live with partner Tara Rushton in Sydney.
Smith remains bemused by the innuendo over the pair's relationship, while both he and Cronk have denied a rift following the latter's arrival at Moore Park. That decision instantly turned the Roosters into Melbourne's biggest title threat.
Roosters v Storm - Grand Final
But even when that move was made, Smith had an inkling they could find themselves squaring off on the last weekend of September – the first Roosters-Storm grand final in history, but the 15th time in the last 19 years one of the sides have featured in the decider.
"I don't know where that came from to be honest, that suggestion," Smith said of the rumours about a strained relationship.
"It was extremely tough to lose Coops. I still remember the day that he told me. I was probably caught off guard a bit, I didn't really expect that to happen, that he was going to leave our club.
"But myself along with everyone else understood fully the reasons why. Being in Melbourne my entire career I understand the need to be around family and loved ones and those that are closest to you.
"… I was probably caught off guard a bit when Coops told me but that was it, I don't know where the other theories or suggestions came from".
As for the chance of sitting on the same pre-grand final press conference as the kid he first met aged 18, and went on to NRL, Origin and Test glory with?
"I probably didn't think that far ahead," Smith said.
"But there was always going to be a high chance of that given the two clubs and the way they go about their business.
"We've dominated the post-season matches for a long time now ... the grand finals that both these clubs have been involved in since the early and mid-2000s is quite a bit.
"There was every likelihood of it. I think it's great for our game that two strong clubs are vying for the trophy."
Cronk by his own admission "has sidestepped that questioned for 30 weeks" in reference to facing the Storm.
But as he puts himself through a rigorous rehab race, he paid tribute to the role both his current and former clubs have played in his career to date.
"The team on the far left of the table [Melbourne] have contributed to me being the person and the player I am today," Cronk said.
"The team on this side [the Roosters] have allowed to me have my two loves of football and my family together.
"Both of them have contributed an immense amount. If I had have stayed in Melbourne I wouldn't have been able to get married and have a beautiful family.
"But this week there's no sentiment in rugby league. It's just go out and do what you need to do."
Secure a match ticket
A limited amount of tickets are still left to enjoy the 2018 Telstra Premiership NRL Grand Final. Don’t miss your chance to secure your seat via Ticketek HERE
Travelling for the grand final?
You can secure your tickets and travel all in the one place with ‘build your own’ packages still available HERE