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Playing in a dinner suit: How clever Cronk minimises contact

The masterful Cooper Cronk could have worn a dinner suit in last year's grand final and the statistics show he'd still only have few stains if he dressed formally this season.

The Roosters halfback's courageous on-field "coaching" display to cleverly avoid heavy contact to guide his team to the 2018 premiership despite carrying a broken scapula will go down in folklore.

In that match, Cronk had 18 touches but was never tackled - passing 14 times and kicking on four occasions.

Even being back at full health in 2019, Cronk has only been made to play the ball 43 times in 21 appearances.

NRL Stats pored over the numbers and found the former representative stalwart is stopped with the Steeden an average of 2.5 times per game - with only Manly No.7 Daly Cherry-Evans recording a lower figure this year.

Instances where Cronk offloaded or was hit late were not counted as tackles in this metric.

Cronk point-blank avoided being tackled in the qualifying final win while having 52 touches of the ball against the Rabbitohs two weeks ago and was only wrapped up twice in round 25 versus the same opponents despite having 57 receipts.

The 35-year-old averages the fewest run metres out of any regular halfback in 2019 with 39 per game, with Wests Tigers halfback Luke Brooks (117) leading the way.

These are interesting statistics for Storm coach Craig Bellamy to ponder as he plots revenge on Cronk and the Roosters in Saturday's preliminary final at the SCG.

Cronk and Bellamy share a special relationship, the playmaker having spent the first 14 years of his NRL career at the Storm under the mentor.

"I don't know [if it's] bittersweet or what you'd call it - he's getting close to the end of his career," Bellamy said of potentially ending Cronk's time in the NRL.

"He might have one game, he might have two. I think I'll try to keep my emotions and my thoughts to myself until that day happens.

"And then we'll obviously celebrate what a wonderful player - well, he still is - he has been and all the things he's done for a lot of different teams. Us, obviously the Roosters, Australia and Queensland."

Roosters coach Trent Robinson on Friday was bemused by talk his veteran halfback was "protected" and pointed to his intensity at training for Saturday's must-win match.

"He's trained tough, he's got a black eye running through this week. You focus on performance – we've got a game to play tomorrow night and we're really focused on everybody's input into that, on what he's going to do," he said.

"He plays a really key position for us. That's an important thing [retirement] in a couple of weeks, but at the moment he's halfback playing in a prelim so that's the real focus for us."

Roosters v Storm - Preliminary Final

If Bellamy has ordered his troops to target Cronk, he didn't let on in his media conference on Friday as he dished out praise to the veteran.

"He's got a lot of reward for a lot of hard work. He had to work really hard at the start of the career and I'm sure he still works really hard," Bellamy said.

"He's one of those you like to see have success because of the hard work he puts in and the amount of care he has for his teammates. He's been a great player for our code."

Elsewhere, Bellamy defended his captain Cameron Smith, who has long been a target for fans owing to his alleged ability to get away with more than most players.

But according to Bellamy, it's a case of jealously.

"I think through his experience he's probably got an opinion on a couple of things and he expresses it on the field," Bellamy said.

"I don't adhere to that theory at all but at the end of the day it seems to be, 'We'll put him up there and knock him'. It seems to be a little bit of the Aussie way, the old tall poppy.

"But give me Cameron Smith any time. Any team you're involved with, you'd want Cameron Smith involved with it every day of the week.

"And not only your team but your club, your organisation ... He's probably one of the most unselfish players I've ever coached."

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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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