Sydney Roosters coach Trent Robinson insists he will have no hesitation about playing hooker Jake Friend after a 10-week injury as the premiers prepare to farewell Cooper Cronk in a record ninth NRL grand final.
Cronk, who led the Roosters to premiership glory in 2018, will make a fourth consecutive grand final appearance for the second time in a remarkable 16-year career after playing for the Storm in the 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2012, 2016 and 2017 deciders.
Only Norm Provan and Brian “Poppa” Clay have made more grand final appearances, with both winning 10 premiership with St George, while Eddie Lumsden and Ron Coote each played nine.
However, Cronk is the only player to have achieved the feat in the NRL era, and last year became the first player to win back-to-back premierships with different clubs since Johnny Mayes won the 1973 grand final with Manly and helped the Roosters to the 1974 title.
Selfless Cronk doesn’t want grand final to be about him
“The impact that he has had on our game, the human being that he is and the player that he has been needs to be honoured,” Robinson said.
“We will do that but we will honour him post that game but it won’t be a farewell week, I can tell you that. We won’t talk about it much, we will mention it in a small part but you don’t win on memories, you win to prepare on 17 guys playing really well next weekend.”
Robinson indicated that Friend would be one of those 17 players and he also expects five-eighth Luke Keary to be available to take his place, despite the possibility of a judiciary charge for a high shot on Felise Kaufusi and an ankle injury that limited him to one training session last week.
Friend was set to play against the Storm in Saturday night’s 14-6 win but pulled up sore five minutes from the end of Thursday’s training session with a calf problem that has been bothering him for the past month.
He was already sidelined after fracturing his arm against Newcastle on July 20 in only his second match back from a bicep injury sustained in the Anzac Day clash with St George Illawarra and has played just five matches this season.
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Robinson recalled captain Boyd Cordner for the 2013 grand final after an eight week lay-off with injury and the two-time premiership-winning mentor said he would have no hesitation playing Friend.
“You trust your players and the guy has played a lot,” Robinson said of Friend. “We haven’t had what we call our best 17 on the park all year so it has just been that next man up mentality. We have had to have it.
“He was about five minutes away from [completing] Thursday’s session. He got through all of it and trained really, really well and then it just started to tighten up. He will be in the 21 again, pushing for next week.”
Keary had a limited preparation before the Storm clash after sustaining an ankle injury in the qualifying finals win against South Sydney and Robinson admitted there had been doubts about him playing against the Storm.
Fiery start at the SCG leads to two in the sin-bin
He was penalised but not placed on report for the high shot on Kaufusi, which sidelined the Test second-rower in the 24th minute after he failed a HIA.
“If it is consistent we are pretty certain he will be playing next week, that’s for sure,” Robinson said of Keary, who also pulled Kaufusi by the hair after being palmed in the face and then hit him high.
Keary was hobbling at full-time but Robinson was confident the injury wouldn’t keep him out of the grand final against Canberra after he managed to take his place on Saturday night.
“He was never in a moon boot but it took a long time to recover from two weeks ago,” Robinson said. “Each day we thought he was going to get better and get on field and train, then we got to Tuesday and we thought he was going to train and he couldn’t.
“He did a little bit on Monday and a little bit on Tuesday and then Thursday we thought he was going to go again and he couldn’t, and he only trained yesterday for the first time since that game.
“We were saying are you going to be okay and Luke said, ‘no, I am playing. I am right’. When Luke gets his head on he makes a decision and he was good tonight, he did his role but he has got another week to get some recovery into it.”
Robinson said he was proud of his team's performance against the Storm but expects improvement in the grand final.
"I thought we were good to very good tonight and I want us to be great next week," he said.
Tickets for the NRL Telstra Premiership Grand Final 2019 are now on sale to the general public.