Cronk’s heartfelt farewell in decider for romantics
Cooper Cronk came to Sydney for love.
On Sunday night, the Sydney Roosters playmaker can farewell the Harbour City's most dominant football team as a legend.
As if scripted for a romance novel, Cronk's ninth grand final appearance at ANZ Stadium - a feat only five other players have achieved since 1954 - is also his farewell as a footballer after 15 years of NRL.
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Cronk quit his home of 13 years at the Melbourne Storm to move to Sydney at the end of 2017 so partner and now wife Tara Rushton could forge her career with Fox Sports. He is now preparing to go out with the ultimate fairytale ending at the age of 35.
"This (Roosters) team and the people involved with this football club sacrificed a lot for me to be here,'' said Cronk, who has spent the entire week deflecting the story away from him.
"So everything about this week and performance wise on Sunday night is about paying back a bit of that respect and a bit of love and admiration and just competing.
"I care about this football club and its outcome because I've been on other ends of the scoreboard on grand final day, so I know which one I'd prefer.''
Up against the underdogs to everyone else except the Canberra Raiders and their mass of Viking Clapping supporters, the oldest grand final player since Cliff Lyons in 1997 is also charged with altering history by steering the Roosters to back-to-back premierships.
No side has secured the rare double since the brilliant Brisbane Broncos of 1992-1993.
Both the TAB favourite Roosters and the momentum-riding Raiders completed the most important week of their year with a short 30-minute training run.
The Roosters went through their paces behind closed doors at the Sydney Cricket Ground while the Raiders invited media into ANZ Stadium for the last run just after midday on Saturday.
Sunday's countdown to kick-off will focus on the health of Roosters hooker Jake Friend after Canberra's gun trio of John Bateman (virus), Josh Hodgson (stomach bug) and Joey Leilua (calf) were all declared certain starters.
"We're all fit and healthy and relaxed,'' Raiders assistant coach Andrew McFadden said.
The Raiders are prepared for Friend to play.
There was speculation yesterday that Friend's inclusion in the final 17 would see bench prop Zane Tetevano dropped, however the Raiders were also aware of a suggestion that rival forward Isaac Liu had a knee complaint.
Friend, who hasn't played in 11 weeks and only one 80-minute performance since round one due to a ruptured bicep, a broken forearm and most recently a calf issue, remains part of the premiers' 19-man squad.
The decision by head coach Trent Robinson to pick or overlook Friend is a monumental decision either way.
The experienced hooker's inclusion would dramatically impact the Roosters' bench size and so, too, the role of rookie rake Sam Verrills.
If Friend is omitted, it would propel Verrills, 20, into his first grand final after just 13 NRL matches.
"Jake's been on the sideline so long,'' Roosters skipper Boyd Cordner said. "It normally takes a few weeks to get those combos back up with your spine, so it's a huge decision and one that I'm glad I'm not a part of."
Unlike last year when the Tricolours enjoyed the vast majority of support over Melbourne on grand final day, they will be faced with a vastly different atmosphere tonight ahead of the scheduled 7.30pm kick-off.
Such has been the groundswell of appeal and interest from fans wanting to witness the Raiders create history and claim their first grand final win in 25 years, ticket sales for the decider favours the Green Machine 60-40.
Back in Canberra, an entire city has been struck by Raiders fever and has prepared for on a diet of green sausages, green bread, green pies and green milk.
A live site for fans in Belconnen, close to Canberra Stadium, is expected to reach several thousand as they dream of welcoming home their heroes, just as they last did in 1994.
At ANZ Stadium, the Raiders will also be reminded of their rich past.
Club legend Mal Meninga has been chosen to blow the club's iconic mega-horn just moments before kick-off and that will signal the start of Australian sport's biggest ever Viking Clap.
The top-end of town will also be at ANZ Stadium for the game and a pre-game entertainment package, which includes US band OneRepublic and Aussie icon Daryl Braithwaite, who will perform his classic Horses at halftime.