Cooper Cronk’s announcement that he would be leaving the Storm was not surprising. At 34, time was coming when he would have to end his playing career and by announcing early in the 2017 season it would allow the Storm to find a replacement.
What was surprising though was the fact he was leaving his options open and considering playing for another team in 2018. Most thought Cronk would retire and many seemed genuinely surprised he signed on to play with the Roosters in 2018.
Cronk has left the Storm in good hands though with Brodie Croft, 20, his ready-made replacement. Such is Croft’s potential, coach Craig Bellamy did not go out and sign an experienced half back to cover Cronk’s departure.
Croft played in six games for the Storm in 2017, deputising for Cronk during Origin and while he was out with injury. It was during those games he displayed his talent including an extra time golden point field goal.
Many people have labelled Croft as a Cronk clone. A fair assessment on inspection. Croft is uncannily similar to Cronk in the way he moves on the field. However, it is an unfair expectation to place on the young man.
To play a hand full of games and be successful is a great sign that Croft will be the perfect fit for the Storm as they attempt to win back to back Premierships. However, he will have to attempt to play a full season. The rigour of backing up week to week, bumped and bruised, is a huge challenge for the young man.
If Croft is out for any period of time, the Storm will struggle. There is not another recognised half within the Melbourne squad. Therefore Bellamy will need to manage Croft to ensure he doesn’t lose him to injury or burn out.
No team has gone back to back since the great Broncos team accomplished it in 1992 and 1993. If the Storm are to go back to back, Croft will have to contribute and be as influential on games as Cronk had in 2017.
A hard ask for a young man with just six games experience. However, if early form means anything, his performance in the World Cup challenge would suggest Croft is up to handling the pressure.
For Croft, he will be looking forward to marking up against his mentor Cronk in Round 16 when the Storm play the Roosters at Adelaide Oval. The apprentice would love to get one up against the master.
The Storm have lost some key personnel from their Premiership roster. Craig Bellamy has not gone to the market to bring in replacements. A mix of salary cap restrictions and faith in the young talent. These young player will essentially be the core base for the future of the Storm when Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Ryan Hoffman retire.
The Storm will struggle to win repeat Premierships. Although Croft and the other younger players will no doubt be effective, it might be asking to much too soon. There main threat will come from the Roosters ironically with Cooper Cronk!
Something that will break all Storm fans hearts if indeed it does come to pass.