Cooper Cronk is a modern day legend.
Throughout the history of rugby league the position of half-back has developed in to one of the most skilful and valuable positions that a team can have. Usually, if we ever see a club with a top class scrum-half then they can become better organisationally but creatively and structurally as well. If you look at today’s game, the evidence is clearly there when you look at say Daly Cherry-Evans at Manly Sea Eagles, Nathan Cleary at Penrith Panthers or even George Williams at Wigan – they have all been standpoint performers in the position and major catalysts for their teams in attack.
Now as we look back over the course of the 2019 NRL season, we saw the ending of a player’s career who undoubtedly made the half-back spot his own and that was Cronk. So in tribute of the Australian, we add another one to the in depth series as we take a look in to the career of the man himself.
Between 2004-19, Cronk established himself as one of the best ever to take up the half-back position and is widely considered to be a future immortal in time to come. The 35-year-old became revered for his expertise in game kicking along with the ability to slice open an opponent’s defensive line with an exquisite passing and kicking skillset. He was a player who was always thinking about his opponents and constantly looked like he was two steps ahead of everyone else.
A true Queenslander whose rugby league journey from utility back to elite status began in 2001 after a number of years playing rugby union at St Laurence’s College in Brisbane. An 18-year-old Cronk was eventually selected for both Queensland and Australian Schoolboys sides before eventually trying out for Brisbane North Devils and training with Melbourne in 2003.
At the tender age of 21, he made his professional debut for Melbourne and showed he was a quick learner by taking up variety of positions – stand-off, loose forward and dummy half. There would be a couple of teething years before Cronk would announce himself to the rugby league world though and in 2006, he announced himself in the best fashion by claiming the Dally M Half-back of the Year gong as the Storm reached the NRL Grand Final that year.
The Storm would go on to make four consecutive Grand Final appearances between 2006 and 2009, winning the title in 2007 and 2009. Although in years to come their title wins over this period were eventually stripped due to financial implications, Cronk and his Melbourne team featuring the likes of Billy Slater and Greg Inglis established themselves as one of the most feared teams around during the early part of the 21st century. The five-eighth was even rewarded for his displays throughout that time by earning his first caps for Australia as well as standing in as captain for the 2008 Grand Final in the loss to Manly.
It would not be until the 2012 season when we would see the man back in a NRL Grand Final but it would be a time in which we would see him at his dynamic and influential best. Between 2011-16, he became recognised as one of the best in the game, winning the Dally M Half-back of the Year on four occasions and the Dally M Medal itself in 2013 and 2016 before his career came full circle in 2016 when he was crowned the best player in the world when he received the Golden Boot award.
It would not be just at club level that we saw the very best of Cronk though as he went on to make an impact for both Queensland and Australia. After more than earning his first appearance for the Maroons in 2010, he eventually featured 22 times for the representative side and was only a part of a losing side in 2014, with a star-studded Queensland team winning seven out of eight Origin series between 2010 and 2017. The 2012 series was seen as one of his finest moments in a Maroons shirt as he kicked the winning field goal in the dying minutes in game three.
In terms of the Kangaroos, Cronk started off as more of a utility man off the bench with Darren Lockyer and Johnathan Thurston partnering in the halves up until the former’s retirement in 2011. From there, the starting role was rightfully Cronk’s own. Over the course of his Australian career he was a part of three Four Nations winning teams (2009, 2011, 2016) as well as two World Cup winning squads in 2013 and 2017.
After his move to the Roosters in 2018, Cronk would go on to make another finals appearance (his 8th overall) and this time we saw his toughness and desire to get on the field after suffering a broken scapula only two weeks prior to the game. The win over his former club meant he was the first person to win consecutive Grand Finals with different teams.
Eventually though, all things would come to an end as the Aussie legend announced that his career was coming to a close at the end of 2019. But in one last hurrah, he made his way to one last Grand Final with Sydney and ultimately his third appearance in a row. The Roosters overcame the spirited effort of Canberra in a 14-8 win. Cronk secured his third consecutive NRL crown and added his fourth overall to an already impressive CV. By the end of his career he had made 372 appearances and scored 101 tries at domestic level, as well featuring 38 times and scoring 16 tries for the Kangaroos. By the time of his last appearance for Queensland in 2017, he had made 22 appearances as well as crossing the try-line on three occasions and he played a huge part in the Maroons dominance over the years.
The question to ask now is, we will see Cronk’s legacy further cemented in Australian rugby league by him being enshrined as an immortal?
You would definitely find it hard to argue against this when you look at the player and the man himself. Over the course of an accomplished and trophy laden career, Cronk was easily one of the best half-backs in the business and maybe one of the best the game has ever seen. Although he was never the biggest goal kicker throughout the years, he more than made up for it with his genius in game kicking, organisation, leadership and phenomenal rugby IQ as he went on to appear in a staggering nine NRL Grand Finals. It is always easy to just stand or sit there and discuss how great a player he was but without a doubt, he was one you had to watch to appreciate at greater lengths. It was never anything extravagant but the little things that made him one of the most complete players out there.
Throughout the 2000s, Cronk established himself as part of Queensland and Australia dynasty amongst some of the biggest names in the game and one of which we may not see again for a long time.
Achievements and accolades
Dally M Player of the Year: 2013, 2016
Dally M Half-back of the Year: 2006, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2016
Clive Churchill Medal: 2012
Rugby League World Golden Boot Award: 2016
2012 NRL Grand Final Winners
2013 World Club Challenge Winners
2017 NRL Grand Final Winners
2018 NRL Grand Final Winners
2019 World Club Challenge Winners
2019 NRL Grand Final Winners