Braveheart Cronk inspires Roosters’ grand final triumph
A BATTERED Cooper Cronk produced the ultimate braveheart act to break retiring Billy Slater's heart and inspire the Roosters' 21-6 mauling of Melbourne in the NRL grand final.
Before 82,688 fans at Sydney's ANZ Stadium, Cronk defied the greatest of odds, the halfback overcoming a fractured shoulder to torment his former club and deliver the Bondi club's 14th premiership.
For most of the week, Cronk looked gone. His broken scapula was stuffed. Even Johnathan Thurston and Andrew Johns doubted he could play. But Cronk pledged to back himself.
Somehow, he trudged into battle. Never write-off a champion.
Wearing jumper No.23, Cronk resembled a wounded, one-armed bandit as he imposed his will, if not skill, on a Roosters team that bolted to an 18-0 half-time lead and broke the Storm with power, pace and energy.
Josh Addo-Carr gave the Storm hope when he scored a 63rd-minute runaway try for 18-6, but when five-eighth Luke Keary landed a field-goal 11 minutes from time, Cronk had his Cinderella moment.
It was a masterful, energetic, clinical display by the Roosters. Cronk's halves partner Keary, back-rower Boyd Cordner and centre Latrell Mitchell were outstanding, terrorising the error-riddled Storm to clinch the Roosters' second premiership in five years.
Underlining Melbourne's horror night, five-eighth Cameron Munster was sin-binned twice in a disastrous display.
The Cronk narrative was as magical as it was multi-faceted.
Roosters supremo Nick Politis poached Cronk from the Storm this season to deliver another Bondi title. In just one season, the purchase of Cronk - who steered Melbourne to seven grand finals - has been emphatically vindicated.
In the process, the Sydney glamour club denied Melbourne's historic quest for back-to-back titles in the 20-year NRL era, sending Storm champion Slater into retirement a shattered man.
When Cronk's name was announced over the PA system, the pro-Roosters crowd shook the Homebush foundations.
Cronk was lapping up the theatre. Fittingly, he was the last of the 34 combatants to run out, wearing No.23, the very number worn by cricket icon Shane Warne and NBA legend Michael Jordan in their pomp.
But from the opening minutes, it was clear Cronk was not out there to produce Warne-like magic. His battered shoulder hanging as limp as week-old lettuce, this was about survival.
The Roosters didn't have 13 players on the park last night. They had 12 heroes and one quasi-coach in Cronk, who cleverly stayed out of the crossfire, barking, pointing, plotting and cajoling.
The Storm's first half was one of their most uncharacteristic performances of the season. They simply missed the jump. Pressured by the energy of the NRL's best defensive side, the Storm lost the yardage battle and fell into error playing catch-up.
Dictating terms, the Roosters turned pressure into points, bolting to a 12-0 lead inside 15 minutes via tries to Daniel Tupou and Mitchell, the latter giving rival centre Will Chambers nightmares.
Roosters pivot Keary and fullback James Tedesco deserve special kudos.
It was Keary's smarts that allowed Cronk to take a backseat role as a traffic cop. His long, floating spiral pass for Tupou's opening try in the 8th minute was simply sublime.
And Tedesco, usually a power runner, now has the ability to create. The evidence came in the 37th minute when he engineered the Joseph Manu try which catapulted the Chooks to a shock 18-0 half-time lead.
The Storm found some running after the break, but when Keary snapped a field-goal, Cronk was left to savour the Power of One.