Sydney Roosters media opp
Sydney Roosters media opp

Kent: Cronk’s bar too high even for Smith

COOPER Cronk moonlighted as a panellist on NRL360 for much of the year, bringing some much-needed intelligence to the desk as half the panel is normally clueless, and sometimes more than that.

By airtime he was often the most informed panellist at the desk, which took something given one of those sitting opposite was Ben Ikin, who won't even holiday unless he can spreadsheet it first.

For Cronk, it always began with the topics, worked by Ikin, who knows his stuff.

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The topics got committed to paper and about half an hour before the show Cronk walked into the green room and shook hands before picking up his sheet and sitting down to it with a pen.

Five, sometimes six topics.

One night I sat watching him work through with a red pen, filling the available space with his notes.

Mostly it went down in a rush, a burst of information, and occasionally he would pause and think.

Soon the red ink outweighed the printed black type, with very little space left untouched. Sometimes he worked sideways up the page.

Cronk‘s preparation is second to none. Photo: AAP Image/Bianca De Marchi
Cronk‘s preparation is second to none. Photo: AAP Image/Bianca De Marchi

He folded it and read it again when he got on set, a cursory look in the ad break, and then he was done. Ready.

This night I asked him afterwards if I could have the sheet.

"Just be a bit careful with it," he said, folding it in half. "There's some things …"

It was a small look into the workings of his mind.

Each question flowed with a response, an analytical breakdown of strengths and styles and weaknesses, a peak behind the curtain, the way football is played but not always the way it is understood.

What was slightly unusual was that he broke down his own analysis. Each of the 10 or 12 sentences were condensed into three strong points.

He can play the media as well as he can the footy. Photo: AAP Image/Bianca De Marchi
He can play the media as well as he can the footy. Photo: AAP Image/Bianca De Marchi

Each point a reminder of the greater detail. It was like your old high school study notes, which might not get seen in too many NRL coaching meetings.

It is typical Cronk. Attend to the detail and the rest falls into place.

He gave the game another reminder of it on Monday.

Cronk is practised at giving nothing away. Photo: Phil Hillyard
Cronk is practised at giving nothing away. Photo: Phil Hillyard

He stood answering questions about Sunday's grand final against the Raiders, at once saying nothing and everything about his approach to the game.

"If you start focusing on the outcome you will lose track of the process and this football team has got to this position through building a foundation of strength," Cronk said.

"Build a foundation where you can trust one another both defensively and with the ball.

"It's up to us to go out and put the final pieces together.

"If you want to dumb it down further, my focus is this afternoon's training session …"

He says it is not about him but such is his unusual phrasing, or even the circumstance, it often becomes about him.

Ron Coote (fourth from left, back row) and some great hair back in 1975.
Ron Coote (fourth from left, back row) and some great hair back in 1975.

For instance on Monday he was asked about his place in the game and he immediately went back to Dally M, the original and not the award, saying these men were pioneers and it "sits uncomfortably with me that I'm even spoken about in the same breath as them".

He is more successful than Messenger, though, for one, and indeed he is the most successful player in the game today.

Sunday's grand final will be his ninth decider. Ron Coote was the last man to play nine grand finals in 1975. Eddie Lumsden also contested nine, as part of St George's 11 straight premierships, while Poppa Clay and Norm Provan each played 10.

Provan won all 10 of his.

Even Cameron Smith won’t match Cronk here. Photo: Jason McCawley/Getty Images
Even Cameron Smith won’t match Cronk here. Photo: Jason McCawley/Getty Images

Cronk's ninth puts him two clear of Cameron Smith, his former Storm teammate. It is a modern record even Smith is unlikely to now break.

Cronk would never say it but it must give him quiet pleasure that he takes a lead over Smith in an area both hold dearly.

It has always been about winning for them both.

It goes back to the feeling for a long time that while Cronk was part of the original big four in Melbourne he was the last man in and, perhaps, the first out.

When the Storm salary cap scandal broke in 2010 it was said that Cronk was privately irked that his contract contained no secret boat in his garage like it did for Greg Inglis or warranted a second contract like it did for Smith.

When Cronk later went to market the Storm took a peculiar interest in goings-on while some teammates, with a quiet sneer, wondered about the circus around it.

The Roosters star leaves nothing to chance. Photo: AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts
The Roosters star leaves nothing to chance. Photo: AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts

Cronk stayed in Melbourne and did what he always did, which was set on with winning.

Inglis left to go to Souths and Cronk's star power rose and he edged closer to Smith and Billy Slater as the big four became the big three and slowly his true value became apparent.

It was certainly noticed by the Roosters.

So it got put to the ultimate test last season when Cronk left for the Roosters and, like a made-for-TV movie, took the Roosters to the grand final to play his former teammates at the Storm.

He won to take him one win ahead of Smith.

And Sunday he gets the chance to push it out to two.