So, Cooper Cronk and the Melbourne Storm have parted ways. A nightmare for some and a dream for the nine or so Sydney clubs that will soon begin battling it out for the contract of the world’s best halfback.
The big three, outside of State of Origin, are no longer.
It’s a sad sight but who are we to stand in the way of love.
The question now is where will Cronk end up in 2018 and which club does he best suit?
Perhaps a more appropriate question still is which club will benefit most from his services?
Here are the clubs in line to make a play for the 2016 Dally M medallist.
When news first broke of Cronk’s move to Sydney yesterday afternoon, Parramatta was one of the first clubs linked to his signature. But with last year’s salary cap dramas still lingering like the smell of two week old rubbish, it’s difficult to see them making a substantial bid, if any.
Corey Norman and Clint Gutherson have been in the halves across the first five rounds of the competition, but haven’t quite provided the spark the Eels require. They remain a work in progress, not a settled combination, so there are grounds for placing an offer for Cronk. But the 2018 cap, which is a bigger mystery than the gunman on the grassy knoll, will force Parramatta’s hand and see them drop out of the contest.
St George Illawarra Dragons:
The signing of Ben Hunt all but rules the joint venture out of the race, while the form of Gareth Widdop so far this year means there is no need to fix what isn’t currently broke.
The Roosters are the other strong favourites tipped to lure Cronk like hunters in the African savanna.
The tri-colours have experienced great success with their newly formed halves pairing of Pearce and Keary, but much like the Eels, they aren’t a permanent fixture yet and are still in the beta stage of their partnership. This leaves room for Cronk to slot in alongside Pearce to form what could only be described as a halves pairing plucked from heaven.
The Roosters have 12 players coming off contract at the end of the 2017 season, leaving plenty of space to squeeze Cronk under the cap.
James Maloney quipped that he may be out of a job when he heard Cronk was leaving Melbourne. But in truth, he has nothing to worry about.
Maloney and Townsend took the Cronulla Sharks to a premiership no less than seven months ago and sending one of them packing would be an unnecessary and unsavoury move.
Townsend is off contract at the end of 2017, giving the Sharks an outside chance of landing Cronk’s signature. But boy would it be a sucker punch to the gut for the Cronulla halfback.
Much depends on where the Sharks finish this season on the competition ladder.
The no vacancy sign will soon be put up. Surely.
South Sydney Rabbitohs:
Cody Walker was re-signed for three years at the end of 2016 while his partner in crime, Adam Reynolds, did likewise, committing to South Sydney until 2021.
It seems highly unlikely that the Rabbitohs list managers would suddenly feel inclined to head in a different direction having made a choice to secure their future.
Walker has spent some time at Fullback though, so there is the potential for him to be shifted back into the number one. Alex Johnston is yet to sign a contract extension with South Sydney meaning this combination could well come to fruition.
It seems unlikely though. Rabbitohs are the big outsiders.
The Knights lost Jarred Mullen to a drugs ban at the beginning of the season, allowing youngster Brock Lamb to make his first grade debut. And what a fine job he has done.
Trent Hodkinson still has a year and a half to go on his contract. So, needless to say, he will not be the man making way for Cronk, while Lamb, given his inexperience, will have his head firmly on the chopping block if the Knights were to make a bid.
Newcastle are currently owned by the NRL though so it’s easy to see them being outbid by one of the financially stable clubs.
If the scramble to sign Cooper Cronk was a horse race, the Bulldogs would be unbackable favourites.
Mbye and Reynolds have come under great pressure from supporters this year following a series of poor performances, leaving the door ajar for one of them to be sent packing.
No doubt both of them will be slipping an extra prayer into their evening’s grace. They are the two most vulnerable players in the league at the moment, outside of ‘they who shall not be named’ at the Wests Tigers.
Again, the Tigers are in contention for Cronk, if for no other reason than because both halves are coming off contract at the end of this season.
The ‘Big Four’ have the board bent over a barrel, and they might just get their way one more time. A new coach and a board that would be hard pressed managing a small business might be reluctant to make any radical changes given recent events. Even if they would drastically change the fortunes of the football club.
No chance, simply no chance. And why would there be when the development of Te Maire Martin and Nathan Cleary has progressed into its second year. They are two of the most promising playmakers in the competition and Penrith have their heart set on keeping them together for as long as it takes them to form a Thurston/ Cronk like partnership.
Manly Warringah Sea Eagles:
Blake Green has just signed with Manly and is working like a charm while Daly Cherry-Evans is still earning $1.3 million dollars a year. They have been worth every cent across the last few rounds of this season and Manly won’t be stumping up a bucket load of cash to sign a single player.