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Meninga: Can the ultimate team man trump the ultimate pro?

This of all weeks - NRL preliminary finals week - is the toughest on the calendar.

The grand final is so close, you can smell it. But if you don't get things right, you'll regret it for the rest of your life.

Everyone wants to play in the "GF" but many don't.

Cooper Cronk, or anyone in the Roosters system, won't be thinking this will be his last game in the NRL.

He and the rest of the club will be thinking preparation is king and making sure they give themselves every opportunity to go back-to-back. Every Roosters fan, and a fair few others across the game, will be hoping it's Cooper’s second last game.

He will want to personally finish his career on a high note, who doesn't? But tomorrow night won't be all about Cooper Cronk – it's never been about him as far as he's concerned. He's been the ultimate team man all his life.

Cooper has been a different beast to the halfbacks of our past - Allan Langer, Andrew Johns, Ricky Stuart and the like.

He's the modern No.7 prototype I'd suggest, when the game has become more structured with better defensive systems and more knowledgeable combatants.

Raiders v Rabbitohs - Preliminary Finals

The week is all about a plan, a lot more theory, technical and tactical ploys than there used to be - forever trying to make sure those little 'one percenters' are canvassed each week.

Cooper has been one of the game's leaders, certainly the most predominant player, around the style of halfback in the new era. He's delivered and consistently shown how you manage a game for your team.

And to be quite honest, Melbourne has struggled to find a regular No.7 since Cooper left. He's in his second year away from Storm and they still haven't settled on a No.7 – that's how influential Cooper was on their footy team.

On the flip side, Storm have also been without Billy Slater this year and yet they finished minor premiers, three wins clear of the rest of the field.

What does that prove? The strength of Craig Bellamy and the Storm program and what a great player Cameron Smith is and what a strong presence he has on that team.

Roosters v Storm - Preliminary Final

In some ways it is fitting that Cooper and Cameron once again try to outwit each other in one of the most important games for both.

But again, there are others out on the field tomorrow night that are game-changers, momentum-changers.

The fullbacks are totally different styles – one in Ryan Papenhuyzen is on the way up and the other in James Tedesco is at the height of his career, where he’s playing such terrific footy and if not the best, is one of the best, players in our competition and the world really.

We won't know until an hour before kick-off whether Jake Friend is playing but the three regular spine players in Cronk, Luke Keary and Tedesco, give the Roosters so many attacking options. These are three great players the side can go to if momentum is with them, or against them.

Like I mentioned earlier, Cooper is the definitive modern-day halfback especially when your team needs to handle adversity. He can get you back into structure; back to your game plan; and turn momentum by persistent field position pressure through control and his kicking game.

Cronk the 'weird dude' a huge influence on Keary and Tedesco

And that's where Cameron Smith is so good as well. He can also play off the back foot. He's in the enviable position of playing No.9 so every decision the team makes with the football, comes from him. Does he keep it himself and go for a run, does he pass left or right, or does he kick?

The Storm got off to a great start last week against the Eels and then Cameron kept them there. When the Storm have the run of play, suddenly Cameron Munster and Jahrome Hughes have got room to run, along with young Papenhuyzen. What a dangerous trio they can be if given room.

I'm a big fan of both Munster and Keary. They play such a big part in the success of their teams. Munster with the ball is hard to contain, plays entertaining footy, and can break a team with his strength, his footwork, fend, little kicks in behind and now, his ball strip.

Keary can play both ways. He can be the Cooper-style of structure but he can also play footy off the cuff and react to what's in front of him.

If you're talking the purest five-eighth in the competition, to my way of thinking that's Keary. Munster may not be the player to take you around the footy field but he's the one who can break defences open and create havoc if allowed to.

Keary has all the skills you want. He plays direct, he's brave, puts his body in front defensively, is smart with the footy, he's quick, and has a good kicking game.

So for me it's No.7 and No.6 for the Roosters to win and No.9 and No.6 for Storm to get the upper hand.

Burgess brothers countdown to last game

Turning to Canberra and South Sydney tonight, and much has been made of the Raiders being at home before a sell-out crowd. But that doesn't help – not in my mind. It's the same field, same dimensions, same game.

Obviously the cheers for the Raiders will be louder but you've got to help the crowd with that by starting well, getting into the game, dominating early, not giving the Rabbitohs an inch.

This is a real danger game for the Raiders. They lost their last three home games in the regular competition – Roosters in round 21, Manly in sound 23 and the Warriors in round 25 – two of those to top-eight teams.

Certainly they've had a really good season away from GIO Stadium (9-3) but this is different. This is the most important game for them regardless of what the future holds, or the past has been like.

If you bring the crowd in, well they can lift you. But their support usually comes off the back of great effort and attitude, staying composed, building pressure. So it's more about what type of footy you’re playing and not whether there's more of your supporters in the crowd or not.

There are so many strong players and strong personalities in both teams. Sam Burgess is the obviously cultural leader of the Rabbitohs, and for the Raiders Josh Papalii has got the mantle now with Sia Soliola.

Canberra have got a real spirit about themselves this year – a real doggedness, the ability to lift in the big moments. That’s where Papalii and John Bateman are very effective.

It's similar for the Rabbitohs. When they are under the pump, it’s Sam Burgess and Cam Murray that really come into play to lift the team and get them back on the front foot.

And that's when the two most dangerous players on the field will really spring into action – Damien Cook and Josh Hodgson. Those two can dictate play and help you score points quickly.

Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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