‘Thanks for only hitting me once’ (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
‘Thanks for only hitting me once’ (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Cronk’s presence a blight on NRL

THE NRL went local for its pre-game grand final entertainment with Aussie band Gang of Youths rocking ANZ Stadium.

But English singer-songwriter Passenger may have been a more apt opening act given Cooper Cronk's role in the Sydney Roosters' victory.

Cronk's teammates carried him to a premiership - not the other way around - and it doesn't say a lot for what's required to win a game of rugby league.

What other team sport would you be able to get away with having such a physically-restricted player in your lineup? Certainly not basketball, baseball or American football.

Soccer team's are regularly forced to play with 10 men and you only have to look as far back as Juventus' Champions League opener against Valencia - where Cristiano Ronaldo's team scored twice in a 2-0 win after he was red-carded - to find examples of it not preventing success.

Greater Western Sydney played one - and for a period two - players short in the final quarter of their round 20 win against Carlton this season and still kicked seven goals to one.

England also won a Test match against India in August without needing legspinner Adil Rashid to bat, bowl or take part in any dismissal.

But none of those examples included the team willingly entering the game at a disadvantage like the Roosters did. And in a game that's supposed to be the ultimate physical test, too.

Cooper Cronk plays conductor. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
Cooper Cronk plays conductor. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Cronk's ability to front up was labelled the most "heroic thing I've seen in 20 years" by Roosters doctor Ameer Ibrahim and there's no doubting his courage.

Revelations the break in his scapula was 15cm long and that he had as much anaesthetic pumped in his veins before and during the game as you can have without troubling your heart were incredible.

But it was the 12 other men on the field in red, white and blue who were the real heroes.

No one expected Cronk to make many tackles against his former team but of the nine he was credited with making there was only really one - a hard-to-watch head-on collision with Storm giant Nelson Asofa-Solomona - where he wasn't immediately bailed out by teammates.

Storm leaders Craig Bellamy and Cameron Smith are among the smartest minds in the game and they were unable to exploit Cronk's injury at any point.

"He did a really good job to hide tonight," Smith said of his former teammate. "He was switching sides and getting on the wing and into defensive positions where we couldn't really get to him, and if we did get to him, he'd have a lot of help from the inside."

His offensive contribution was almost non-existent too. Cronk didn't make a single run and barely made a pass more than two or three metres. Clive Churchill medallist Luke Keary did almost all the kicking.

For those who play Supercoach, No. 23 finished with only nine points - less than anyone else in the game.

Whenever Cooper Cronk was forced to tackle, help wasn't far away.
Whenever Cooper Cronk was forced to tackle, help wasn't far away.

Perhaps this argument understates the value of Cronk's on-field leadership. But maybe it doesn't.

He was certainly doing a lot of conducting but at times it felt like it was more to make up for what he wasn't doing then because it was badly needed.

The only time we really heard Channel 9's microphones pick up his voice was towards the end of the game as he told co-captain Jake Friend not to "overplay" things with the Roosters enjoying a 13-point advantage.

Mitchell Pearce must have been sitting at home wondering why he never thought of pearls of wisdom like that.

And if it's really that valuable to have an on-field coach, why not take it a step further next year.

Craig Bellamy and Trent Robinson are still pretty fit looking blokes.

Was there anything Cronk did in the game from a physical point of view they couldn't have managed at a pinch? The player-coach could be back in vogue.