Cooper Cronk in action for the Storm.
Cooper Cronk in action for the Storm. PAUL MILLER

Understated Cooper flies under the radar

AS THE media spotlight blazed on the spectacular landing of the Hayne Plane on the Gold Coast this past week, a player with a far more impressive CV quietly announced his re-signing with the Melbourne Storm for two more years.

No doubt the Titans securing Hayne was a much bigger news story and warranted the subsequent hoopla. The signature of Hayne is, by any stretch of the imagination and in any era, a massive conquest.

But the irony is that Cooper Cronk's decision to stay in Melbourne, and almost certainly play out his career with the Storm, is just as significant for the game. Yet the announcement barely raised a headline.

And that is typical of Cronk, and emblematic of the Storm. Hidden away in Melbourne and far from the maddening rugby league crowd, this Storm is content to cause damage only on the field. Flying under the radar is their modus operandi.

Without doubt the remarkable success of the Storm, in a market where AFL is a religion and the NRL an interloper, rests squarely on the shoulders of a mastermind coach.

At the end of 2002, when the astute leadership of John Ribot and Chris Johns cajoled Craig Bellamy into leaving the Broncos and moving south, the masterstroke became immediately evident.

The Storm went from 10th to semi-finalists in Bellamy's first year and apart from the season they played for no points because of salary cap cheating, they have never missed the finals under his reign.

But he needed help, and that help ostensibly came via four young blokes playing out of the Norths club in Brisbane - Cameron Smith, Billy Slater, Greg Inglis and Cooper Cronk.

And while Cronk may be viewed as a lesser natural talent of that quartet, Bellamy has never undervalued his contribution to the success of the Storm.

By his own admission, Cronk was a battler. While brilliant skills came naturally to the others, he had to work and train harder. Practice, as teammates say, should be Cronk's middle name.

He could never be accused of making rash decisions either. I interviewed him at a function when the Storm played a pre-season trial on the Sunshine Coast back in February and, with his contract expiring at season's end, quizzed him on his future.

His simple reply was "I am working through my options”.

And seven months later, when he finally re-signed until the end of 2018, his reasoning was typical of this impressive, understated young man: "I wake every morning with a smile on my face, thankful I am playing for the Storm.”

No doubt so do the Melbourne fans as their club is eyeing off its fifth minor premiership.

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