Cooper Cronk’s impact on the Roosters can’t be fully measured until next season and beyond, but the superstar halfback believes the move from Melbourne has helped him become a better player.
Cronk, who will retire after his ninth grand final appearance on Sunday, has had such an influence on the Roosters and Storm that the two clubs are likely to consider creating a trophy in his honour to be awarded each time they play, similar to the Ron Coote Cup between the Roosters and Rabbitohs.
“It won’t happen in the short term, but it’s got merit longer term for sure," one senior official told NRL.com
Only Norm Provan (St George 1956-65) and Brian Clay (1954-55, St George 1957-61, 1964-66) have played in more premiership deciders and if the Roosters triumph on Sunday he will become the game’s most successful halfback by equalling Bob Bugden (St George 1956-61) with six grand final wins.
Since Cronk moved from Melbourne last year, the Roosters have been in consecutive grand finals and are aiming to become the first back-to-back premiers since Brisbane in 1992 and 1993.
Cronk’s influence on the Roosters won’t be truly known until he is no longer playing and the club continues to compete for premierships or slips from the top rung of the ladder they have leapfrogged Melbourne to reach since his arrival.
Besides Cronk’s retirement, their roster will be largely unchanged next season with Kyle Flanagan or Lachlan Lam expected to play in the halves alongside Luke Keary, who many believe has already become the club’s dominant playmaker.
If Keary leads the Roosters to another grand final next season, that will be viewed as part of Cronk’s legacy along with the widely hailed work ethic and attention to detail he bought from Melbourne.
Sonny Bill Williams showed Roosters teammates how the ultimate professional prepared for matches and ensured he was able to perform at his optimum each week when he led the club to the 2013 premiership, but standards slipped after his return to the All Blacks two years later.
The Storm were desperate for Cronk to stay and continue his role as "the best third wheel the game has seen" alongside future Immortals Cameron Smith and Billy Slater but he put the career of his partner Tara Rushton ahead of the club.
While Storm officials were keen for Rushton to move to Melbourne, her role as a presenter for Fox Football is based in Sydney so Cronk decided he had to leave and the Roosters swooped in the belief he could have a similar impact on the team as Williams had in 2013.
"The Roosters organisation have allowed me to have a family, get married, settle into my future here in Sydney and play football," Cronk said.
Match: Roosters v Raiders
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Venue: ANZ Stadium, Sydney
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"The thing I respect most about this club and this organisation, and in particular [chairman] Nick Politis and [coach] Trent Robinson, is that they deal with people first and football comes second.
"To be honest, winning and losing wasn’t at the forefront for me. I got married, I bought a house, I had a kid and that is all I needed, that is all I wanted. Football was second and at the start when things weren’t clicking it didn’t really worry me.
"I knew from experience through my career that if you work hard things will turn around and pay off. I still look back on it now thinking that the best approach I had was to worry about my personal life and make sure that was all humming along and the football just fell into place."
Yet while Cronk said he owed a debt of gratitude to Politis and Robinson for allowing him to have his "family and football in the same place", the change of clubs has also enabled him to develop into a better player.
"In terms of improvement, I think I have learned and improved in certain areas," Cronk said.
"I have definitely had my eyes opened up to a different approach to football, a different game style and also what happens from Monday to Friday to play well, but I think I had a really, really good learning school at Melbourne Storm that taught me the bulk of it."
The Roosters also signed James Tedesco from Wests Tigers and, just like at Melbourne, Cronk isn’t regarded as the biggest star in the team, with the NSW fullback crowned the player of the year at Wednesday night’s Dally M awards.
However, just as Slater has since revealed Cronk was the one who really called the shots on the field at the Storm, his Roosters teammates say his influence on their success cannot be questioned.
"He's probably my No.1. He’s a legend," Roosters prop Siosiua Taukeiaho said.
"I watched him playing at Melbourne, Origin, Australia and to get an opportunity to play alongside him … it's been an awesome two years."
Second-rower Angus Crichton, who joined the Roosters this season from South Sydney, said: "I think Cooper is one of the best players to play our game. Watching him play over the years and now to be playing beside him is nothing short of a huge honour."
Keary said Cronk deserved to be considered as a future Immortal, along with the likes of Smith, Slater and Johnathan Thurston.
"I don’t know the selection criteria but in a game where we are judged on wins and losses he is the best, let’s face it," Keary said. "He’s been to nine grand finals, has five rings. He’s done it for 15 years at the top level.
"I think he’s only missed one finals through the points being taken away [in 2010 after the Storm salary cap scandal] so in my opinion he should be talked about as one of the best that’s played the game."
The next Immortals enshrinement is 2022 but Cronk, Smith, Slater, Thurston and Greg Inglis won’t be considered before 2026 as players must be retired for five years to be eligible for induction into the Hall of Fame and can’t receive both honours in the same year.
Bob Fulton, who was one of the four inaugural Immortals selected in 1981, along with Clive Churchill, John Raper and Reg Gasnier, believes Ron Coote – the most recent player to appear in nine grand finals – should be one of the next Immortals chosen in 2022.
His feats, which include six grand finals for South Sydney between 1965 and 1971 and three for Eastern Suburbs in 1972, 1974 and 1975, are recognised with the Roosters and Rabbitohs playing for the Ron Coote Cup each time they meet.
"If I was picking my best-ever side Ron Coote would be in it," Fulton said. "He also played in nine grand finals for two different clubs, he also captained Australia in the World Cup in 1970 and he was outstanding as a captain.
"Ron Coote was consistently an eight-out-of-10 player that players wanted to play with. Such was his dominance that when Coote was 20 or 21, other established players in the Test team had to change positions to accommodate him."
Tickets for the NRL Telstra Premiership Grand Final 2019 are now on sale to the general public.