For a myriad of reasons, the Melbourne Storm have become a difficult club to embrace.
Aside from those living south of the Murray, the average rugby league fan feels little but disdain for the most successful club in the modern game.
Sustained success is the fundamental reason, yet other factors also come into play.
Under the guidance of the best coach of his generation, the Storm have been there or thereabouts since the turn of the century.
Sadly, that success has been tarnished by proven and extensive rorting of the salary cap and an unquestionable impression that Craig Bellamy’s troops mastered the art of controlling the ruck before any other club.
We could all kid ourselves and get involved in some sort of semantically ambiguous discussion around the validity of the above statement or just admit that the Storm do ‘it’ better than anyone.
‘It’ being, the ruck.
However, what is often lost in the narrative around their astonishing success is the genius of the men involved in it. Cameron Smith will ascend to immortal status in due course and anyone against that proposition does not understand the game of rugby league.
Billy Slater will either proceed or follow the hooker’s crowning, as the modern game’s greatest full back.
Both played key roles in the rise, dominance and consistency of the Melbourne Storm. As did a young Greg Inglis, prior to his premiership-winning move to Sydney.
Bellamy built a champion team in Melbourne and saw a host of players come and go thanks to salary cap pressures that eventually caught up with the NRL’s most notorious franchise.
All the while, a clever half-back slipped under the rugby league radar.
Cooper Cronk appears to dislike the limelight. It has been his nature and preference throughout a 16-year NRL career.
After a schoolboy background in rugby union and an opportunistic start with Norths Devils in Queensland, Cronk was to bond early with both Slater and Smith in what was to become potentially, the most lethal trio in the history of rugby league.
It was a triad born at Norths, before it somehow settled in the most unlikely of rugby league towns, Melbourne. What followed will live in rugby league folklore and Cronk’s role in it will forever be underestimated.
With consistent plaudits rolling in for Inglis, Smith and Slater, Cronk humbly played second fiddle to the high profile stars. In truth the smaller man planned, crafted and executed much of the Storm attack for 14 years and was fundamental to their success in both their legal and illegal years of NRL participation.
Often referenced as a manufactured or ‘taught’ halfback, Cronk belied that rather simplistic summation of his game and brought all of the skill and dexterity of his schoolboy years to the Storm when he arrived in 2004.
In truth, Cronk possessed a solid basic skill set and set about developing it further when Bellamy posed the possibility of him moving into the halves early in his career. Renowned for his tremendous work ethic, Cronk set about making the position his own.
It didn’t take him long to cement the number seven jersey at club level and soon after he became an automatic selection for both state and country.
After an illustrious and championship-winning career with the Storm, 22 State of Origin matches and 38 appearances for the Kangaroos, one would have thought that any doubt around his place in the game’s history would be extinguished.
However, there were many of the belief that Cronk may have been the poor man to the millionaire gifts of Smith, Slater and Inglis.
Somewhat conservative they said. A little too structured at times claimed some. Not a natural and gifted half said others. It was unfortunate that Cronk’s move to the Sydney Roosters in 2018 would be necessary to prove to doubters that his half-back play was as peerless and precise as any modern champion.
It was an expensive move. For the club no doubt, but also for Cronk emotionally after spending most his rugby league life in the southern capital.
Yet in another way, it was the easiest move of all; relocating north in support of his wife Tara Rushton’s burgeoning media career and the prospect of raising a family in Sydney.
The Roosters were the biggest winners of all, as Cronk imparted all his knowledge and skill on the squad; moulding them into a dominant force throughout the 2018 season. Even a cracked scapula failed to stop Cronk, as he stepped and weaved his way through a successful grand final appearance in his first season at Bondi.
It put the exclamation mark on a brilliant career. It also showed quite clearly that despite the genius around him at the Storm, Cronk was so much more than just a prong in the attacking fork that Bellamy built.
That gutsy and injured 2018 grand final performance against the Storm spoke volumes of the hard work and dedication Cronk had applied to his game. It also spoke of his courage.
Those traits may contribute to the Sydney Roosters winning another premiership in 2019 and send Cronk off with the most apt of finales.
There would be few in rugby league circles unhappy with such a scenario.