Cronk’s ‘unbelievable’ feat in stunning win
The Sydney Roosters have beaten the Melbourne Storm to be crowned premiers of the NRL for 2018.
COOPER Cronk has become the first player in the history of the NRL to win back-to-back grand finals with rival clubs in a famous moment of rugby league folklore.
His injury secret was finally revealed just minutes after the full time siren when captain Boyd Cordner revealed the star playmaker had no right to even be on the field.
As the Storm chased their own piece of history - a chance to become the first team to win back-to-back grand finals in 25 years - it was their former favourite son who popped up to deny them.
In the process, the 34-year-old created a chapter of rugby league folklore as he took the field and had an immense hand in his team's stunning 21-6 grand final triumph over the Storm, despite suffering a major shoulder injury just last week.
Cronk's back-to-back triumphs with different teams hasn't been seen in the NRL. It was last achieved by Johnny Mayes when he won with the Roosters and Sea Eagles in 1973-74 NSWRL.
Cronk hobbled off the field in the final few minutes a spent force.
His tears of pain were followed by the tears of Storm superstar Billy Slater after the full time siren, which ended his illustrious career in the cruellest of circumstances.
It wasn't the fairytale a champion like Slater deserved - but, after putting his broken body on the line like he did, nobody deserved the grand final win more than Cronk.
Even Slater, in the moment his fabled career was ended in misery, admitted the moment belonged to Cronk and the Roosters.
"That's the way it goes sometimes," Slater said.
"They were better than us in the first half, they got out to a big lead and we couldn't pull them back in," Slater said.
"But I am really grateful for the career I have had, for the friends that I have made and what league has done for me."
He admitted he told Cronk when they embraced at full time that he was proud of his former teammate.
Cronk's injury secret was finally revealed after full time when Roosters co-captain Boyd Cordner told Channel 9 Cronk had actually carried a broken scapula bone in his left shoulder all week and had no right to even be playing.
The similar injury earlier this year kept Wests Tigers star Josh Reynolds on the injured list for five weeks.
"He actually broke his scapula. That will go down in history. That is a big performance from him," Roosters co-captain Cordner said.
"He was touch and go right up until game time. We had to come up with a gameplan to protect him as much as possible, and we executed that."
It was one of the best gambles in NRL grand final history.
While Cronk remained the Roosters' organiser, star five-eighth Luke Keary was the star and went on to be named a popular Clive Churchill medallist as the best player in the grand final.
After leading 18-0 at halftime, the Roosters went on with the job in the second half with Luke Keary leading the way as they took out their second premiership under coach Trent Robinson.
Up 18-6 with 11 minutes to go, Keary sealed the win with a 20-metre field goal, while Latrell Mitchell added the finishing touches with a late penalty.
The contest turned ugly when Storm star Cameron Munster was sin-binned for the second time in the match for kicking at Joey Manu's head in the 78th minute.
After a week of intense speculation over his playing status due to a shoulder injury, Cronk was officially named to play an hour before kickoff on Sunday. But the veteran halfback - who lifted the trophy with the Storm last year - was limited to orchestrating the team's attack as he battled through the pain. As he did in the second half of last week's preliminary final win over South Sydney, he also craftily hid himself against a Storm attack that struggled to target him.
With an ANZ Stadium crowd of 82,688 watching on, he missed none of his eight tackles in a courageous effort before bowing out with two minutes to go. He could barely lift his left arm, let alone pass, kick or tackle, yet it was the Storm that were immobilised by a rampant and meticulous Roosters attack.
"It's one of the best on-field coaching performances I've ever seen," former Roosters coach and Channel Nine commentator Phil Gould said.
Robinson saved his highest praise after the game for Cronk's brave performance.
"It was the toughest display I have ever seen in football," Robinson said.
"His scapula was broken. We had a good look at it and a good think about it on Friday and he ended up playing."
Cronk's brave performance to even take the field was the talk of rugby league circles.
Munster goes to the bin again
Cameron Munster was sent to the sin bin in the 78th minute.
Another professional foul saw him put on report and sent to the sin bin.
He had earlier become the first player sent to the bin in a grand final since Terry Lamb in 1995.
The resulting penalty goal put the Roosters ahead by 15 with less than two minutes to play.
Keary field goal cleared after Slater protest
In a moment of controversy, Roosters five-eighth Luke Keary slotted a field goal - only for the referees to send the vision to the video referee after Billy Slater complained of being tripped.
Replays showed Slater ran into the leg of Victory Radley before falling to ground as he tried to charge down Keary's kick.
The replays showed Radley's leg was on the ground and stationary when Slater ran into it.
The Fox scores Melbourne's first
Josh Addo-Carr streaked 80m to score near the posts when he picked off a poor pass from Luke Keary.
The Storm winger was never in danger of getting run down as he plucked the intercept and took off downfield.
The try gave the Storm a pulse, trailing by 12 with 16 minutes to play.
The NRL video referee knocked back a possible eight-point try when Roosters winger Daniel Tupou was spotted coming in late to stick his knees into Addo-Carr after he'd scored.
Roosters plunge dagger into Storm
Minutes before the half time break the Roosters plunged a dagger into the Storm's hearts when James Tedesco set-up a three-on-two with a quickfire wide pass.
Attacking down the short side, Tedesco attracted two defenders and flicked out a pass to allow Josesph Manu to stroll over untouched.
The try came just a few minutes before the Storm were due to have Cameron Munster return from the sin bin.
The Roosters were all over the Storm with Manu's try putting them ahead 18-0.
"I don't think anybody saw this coming," NRL guru Phil Gould said.
"This is as dominant as it gets."
Munster goes to the bin
Storm superstar Cameron Munster was sent to the bin when he flopped on top of Roosters hooker Jake Friend after the No. 9 had streaked downfield.
The Storm had spilled the ball 40m from their line, allowing Friend to streak downfield in open play.
He was eventually pulled down by Josh Addo-Carr before Munster came in over the top to slow the play-the-ball.
Referee Ashley Klein didn't hesitate to send Munster to the bin in a huge moment that could decide the grand final.
Amazing Cronk gamble paying off
Cooper Cronk's kicks played a huge part in the Roosters' first two tries.
Despite nursing a torn rotator cuff, two early Cronk spiralling bombs were spilled by the Storm back three - allowing the Roosters to score on the following sets of six.
Cronk was targeted by the Storm when kicking the football. He has also been limited to just a few touches in the first 20 minutes.
What little he has touched has all turned to gold for the Roosters.
Roosters reveal Cronk verdict
Cooper Cronk is officially playing for the Roosters.
The Roosters named Cronk to start at halfback in the No. 23 jumper when they handed in their official team sheet one hour before kick off.
The change sees Mitchell Aubusson move back to the second row and Paul Momirovski drop off the bench and omitted from the 17.
The Roosters have confirmed Cronk has been given pain killing injections and will play with his left shoulder heavily strapped.
Rugby league immortal Andrew Johns was shocked when hearing Cronk will play.
"I can't believe it. I can't believe he's playing," Johns told Channel 9.
"What he went through last week. I thought he was absolutely no chance. There were times last week where he couldn't even kick the ball."
Other commentators were simply blown away by the "ruse".
Slater booed by fans during tribute
NRL commentators have labelled the Sydney crowd at the NRL grand final "disgraceful" over the moment they booed Billy Slater during his pre-game retirement tribute.
Unable to be on the field when the NRL's retiring class of 2018 was given a lap of honour around ANZ Stadium, Slater was shown on the big screens inside the stadium when his name was read out by the master of ceremonies.
The vision of Slater preparing to play was met with a chorus of boos inside the stadium.
Cooper Cronk leaves wife out of the loop
Roosters coach Trent Robinson said he was trusting his players to keep Cooper Cronk's fitness a secret all week.
According to reports Roosters board members have not even been told if the star halfback will be fit to play the Storm on Sunday night.
The secret has remained a secret throughout the week - and now we know the extraordinary lengths the players went to to keep the news under wraps.
Fox League NRL 360 host Paul Kent told Triple M NRL on Sunday afternoon that not even Cronk's wife Tara Rushton has been told if her husband will play or not.
Kent said he asked Rushton when they crossed paths on Sunday - only to be told she didn't know if Cronk's shoulder injury will keep him out.
"Even she doesn't know," Kent said.
Meanwhile, Channel 9 guru Phil Gould suggested he believes Cronk will play against the Storm after a conversation he had with Roosters chairman Nick Politis this weekend.
Gould told Channel 9 that Politis has led him to believe that Cronk is expected to pass his fitness test during the team's warm-up.
Cronk 'medically cleared' for grand final
Roosters star Cooper Cronk has reportedly been medically cleared to play in Sunday night's grand final.
Having been put through a secret fitness test on Sunday morning, the Roosters' medical department has given Cronk the all clear.
However, the Roosters will not confirm his selection until one hour before kick off at 6.30pm.
Cronk arrived at ANZ Stadium on the club bus alongside teammates just before 6pm (EAST).
He was filmed by Channel 9 ignoring all the chatter from officials behind the scenes - and even ignored several high-five offers from kids - on his way to the club's dressing rooms.
NRL legend Johnathan Thurston said Cronk had his "game face on".
He was spotted with his kitbag and lined up in the dressing room next to his No. 23 jumper.
Reports came in during the afternoon from The Daily Telegraph's Dean Ritchie and The Australian's Brent Read that Cronk was cleared to play by the Roosters after completing a fitness test on Sunday morning.
Despite the indications that Cronk will play, NRL legend Andrew Johns declared Cronk is "no chance" to play if he really tore his rotator cuff last week.
"I think he's no chance, I don't think he'll play," Johns said on Channel 9.
"I'm wrong all the time but I don't think he'll play.
"He's no chance. The way he came off last week, the way he was carrying it and the clips you saw during the week from the helicopter where he can't even bend over and pick the ball up, I don't think he'll play."