Cooper Cronk of the Storm in action during the qualifying final against the Cowboys at AAMI Park in Melbourne.
Cooper Cronk of the Storm in action during the qualifying final against the Cowboys at AAMI Park in Melbourne. JULIAN SMITH

Cronk to join great mate in 300 club

RUGBY LEAGUE: Already arguably the most successful teammates in rugby league history, great mates Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith will share a special piece of history against Canberra in Saturday's preliminary final at AAMI Park.

Cronk will join Melbourne, Queensland and Australian captain Smith in the game's elite 300-game club.

And in doing it will be the first time in the game's history that two players with 300 games have played in a match either for one team or on opposite sides.

Already several Storm players, including Kiwi Test captain Jessie Bromwich, have declared they desperately want to get the win for Cronk in his milestone game.

Smith and Cronk have been the heart and soul of the Melbourne Storm since moving from Brisbane to link with coach Craig Bellamy, who'll share in the magic moment in front of a packed home stadium.

What Smith (333 games since 2002) and Cronk (299 games since 2004) have done for Melbourne cannot be overstated.

Their respective records for Queensland and Australia speak volumes for them as being among rugby league's all-time best.

Combined they have played 632 NRL games, 67 games for Queensland and 63 Test matches for Australia, a stunning contribution by two kids who - along with Billy Slater and Greg Inglis - guaranteed the club's success in its early years.

Bellamy has coached Cronk and Smith in almost all of their NRL games since 2003, with Saturday night his 360th game.

"It's massive,” said Bromwich of Cronk's achievement. "He's a total professional and this is a huge accolade.

"He and Cameron (Smith) have done everything for this club and they keep bringing the young players through.”

Canberra beat Melbourne comfortably 22-8 in round 23 but realise repeating the win in Melbourne will be a lot tougher but not impossible.

The winner advances to the grand final and after regaining their attacking touch to knock out Penrith last weekend the Raiders' confidence will be sky high, especially with hooker Josh Hodgson (ankle) and five-eighth Blake Austin (hand) both making successful returns from injury against the Panthers.

Canberra has been starting quickly and against the Panthers got out to an 18-0 lead before holding on to win 22-12.

Melbourne, however, rarely gives teams the opportunity to get too far in front on the scoreboard and given the emotion surrounding Cronk's big night they will be ready to dig deep for a special win.

The showdown between Smith and Canberra's English international Hodgson will be a feature.

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