MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 09: Cameron Smith of the Storm celebrates with Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk after winning the NRL Qualifying Final match between the Melbourne Storm and the Parramatta Eels at AAMI Park on September 9, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

Three all-time greats. Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk. But if you had the choice, whose career would you have preferred to have?

The argument could most certainly be made for all three. All three have broken records in their own way, and formed one of the greatest spines at club, State of Origin and international level.

Mainstays of the Melbourne Storm, Queensland Maroons and Australian Kangaroos system, only Cronk would play elsewhere late in his career when he went to the Sydney Roosters and delivered instant success in Trent Robinson’s team.

Here is the argument for all three.

Cameron Smith

Smith is widely earmarked as the game’s next immortal. He spent years captaining at club, state and international level.

As much as he was somewhat a polarising figure at times, there was no better dummy half in the game than Smith, and while rival fans often despised him, it’s what made him great.

A dummy half with the creative vision, he was the heart and soul of the Melbourne Storm for as long as he spent at the club.

Billy Slater

If there has ever been a more exciting player than Billy Slater, then we would like to hear about him.

Slater is the best fullback who has played the game since the turn of the century, at the very least.

Once touted as too small to make it at the back, the Mackay-born superstar had vision, speed, acceleration which was simply unmatched during his career, while it could also be argued that his defensive organisation from the back was a big part of the reason the Storm were as strong as they were for so many years.

Cooper Cronk

Unlike his two former teammates, Cronk didn’t remain in Melbourne for his entire career, with the salary cap eventually squeezing him out of the Victorian capital.

But there could well have been another reason.

You see, Cronk went to the Sydney Roosters and proved beyond all reasonable doubt just how good he was. A two-year contract brought with it two grand final victories, including one where he played the game with one arm.

The Roosters simply couldn’t have asked for a better result when they signed Cronk, and it showed beyond all reasonable doubt just how good of a player he had become by the end of his career.

The key stats

Smith Cronk Slater
NRL career 2002-2020 2004-2019 2003-2018
NRL games 433 372 323
State of Origins 42 22 31
Test matches 56 38 30
NRL premierships 5* 6* 4*
State of Origin series wins 11 7 8
Rugby League World Cup wins 2 2 2
Dally M awards 2 2 1
Clive Churchill Medals 0 1 2
State of Origin player of the series 4 0 2
Golden Boot wins 2 1 1
Dally M team of the year nominations 9 5 3

* - Includes stripped premierships.

The verdict

It’s almost impossible to work it out. Do you take the one who proved everything when he left the Storm? Do you take the captain? Or do you take the excitement machine at fullback.

At the end of the day, it’s hard to go past Smith for this one, but it’s certainly a debate worth having.

Cameron Smith