Nervous and uncertain times face the Melbourne Storm in 2016. Whilst critics and pundits again write the southern franchise off, citing that age will again be the factor of their demise along with a lack of notable depth and not being active in the player market as their counterparts have been, that is the least of Melbourne’s worries and concerns. Their major issue and focus is more internal than worrying about views and opinions of the external environment.
2016 is a significant year for the Melbourne Storm and it’s long-term future going forward. In 2012, two years after the infamous salary cap scandal, they defied the odds to win the Premiership. In 2013, the club was released from the grasp of News Corp and sold to a private consortium known as M.S. Holdings Australia Pty Ltd. In 2014, their long-standing captain, Cameron Smith re-sign to become a one-club player. 2015, the game’s greatest fullback also committed himself to joining Smith in certifying his future in Storm colours for life.
However, two other prominent Storm figures are yet to decide their long-term future and the decisions of both individuals could have ramifications for the Melbourne NRL franchise. The man known to have created the famous ‘Storm culture’, a coach, a leader, a father figure, a mentor, Craig Bellamy is in the final year of his current contract. Bellamy has a clause in his favour, should he choose to activate it, it will see him remain at the Storm until the end of 2018.
But the man responsible for executing Bellmay’s astute game plans and driving the professional Storm culture is also in the final year of his current deal at the Storm. The current Australian, Queenland and Melbourne halfback Cooper Cronk, like Bellamy remains coy on where his future lies beyond 2016. Having not being short of suitors for his services, Cronk has been heavily linked to several Sydney clubs, who would be more than eager to have without question, the best organizing halfback in the world to date.
Cooper Cronk is a unique individual. Not one for the limelight, he keeps to himself. Shy’s away from the media and is a cleanskin when it comes to image, reputation and overall persona. He is the model rugby leaguer player that all NRL clubs wish their athletes could be. Well presented, groomed and articulate when talking, a football club would not just be acquiring a star player to their organization, they would be procuring a brand. A brand that would have a positive impact upon key revenue levers like membership, gate receipts and sponsorship.
So the $3.5 Million dollar question is, which Sydney NRL franchise is going to spend that kind of loot over 3 years to secure the game’s leading playmaker? Or will the Storm win out in the end? Canterbury-Bankstown have lacked a genuine half since Des Hasler arrived at Belmore in 2012. A pack that rolls down field with ease and a swift, nimble and potent backline, the Bulldogs have lacked a No.7 that could be the final piece of the Premiership puzzle. It was no coincidence that it was Cronk that proved to be the difference in their Grand Final defeat to the Storm in 2012.
Rumour and innuendo surrounds the Rabbitohs current halves pairing. Reportedly both Adam Reynolds and Luke Keary, the playmaking duo who helped deliver the South Sydney the 2014 Premiership, breaking a 43 year drought are on the nose with Coach Michael Maguire. Reynolds was denied a release just before the New Year and Keary is in a fight to retain his No.6 jersey after Cody Walker, a former Storm squad member, will start the year in the Halves for the Redfern based club. Could Souths be willing to cut lose their current halves in favour of securing Cronk? If the signing of favourite son Sam Burgess is an example to go off then it would not surprise anyone in the slightest.
St George Illawarra reportedly have been heavily interested in securing the Melbourne maestro’s signature, although Dragons coach Paul McGregor hosed down speculation, pouring cold water on the Red V signing the Australian No.7. However, with former halves partner Gareth Widdop at Wollongong and current halfback Benji Marshall yet to receive an offer from the Dragons, speculation will continue to mount, despite McGregor’s adamant admission.
With all Queensland NRL Clubs having their halves wrapped up and secured, the only other feasible option for Cooper Cronk is with an organization he is awfully familiar with and has been associated with for 12 years. The Melbourne Storm. Having secured both Billy Slater and Cameron Smith until the end of 2017 and 2018 respectively, the Storm will be hoping that the lure and ambition or remaining a one-club player will be too hard to resist, ensuring that Melbourne are able to have all of the famous ‘Big 3’ finish their careers together with the club that provided them with the opportunity to play First Grade rugby league in the NRL.
Cronk is no stranger to contract speculation and gossip. In 2012, he was off contract with the Storm and reportedly a move to the Titans was a done deal. Sign, sealed and delivered to the Gold Coast. The media reports that the incumbent Maroons halfback was keen to relocate back home to be closer to family in Queensland, only for Cronk to present and announce at a press conference at Storm HQ that he was remaining in Melbourne for a further 4 years. This time around, the media hullabaloo is that Cronk is keen to relocate to Sydney to be closer to partner Tara Rushton who resides in the harbor city.
One thing is for certain. This will be Cooper Cronk’s final NRL contract. Whilst the halfback is still the incumbent test and Origin No.7, remains at the top of his game and shows no sign of slowing down, mainly due to his professional approach and health orientated lifestyle, the duration of his next deal will still see the best of Cronk’s on field leadership, game play and heroics. Not to mention, continuing to be one of the NRL’s leading ambassadors and role models for kids, adolescents, young men and aspiring footballers.
What will continue to drive Cronk for the next several years of his career? What drives every professional athlete. The want and will to win. To win Test matches, to win Origins, to win Premierships. The want to better himself; to improve areas of his game, as no professional is ever satisfied, believing there are always key areas and aspects to their game they can improve upon. The fire still burns in Cooper Cronk’s village.
What is somewhat of a rarity in today’s modern game, the notion of a being ‘one club player’ is what not only Storm power brokers, stakeholders fans and members will be hoping sways heavily on Cronk remaining with Melbourne, but I think all rugby league and sports fans in general would want to see the 275 game veteran finish his career in the purple jersey of the Storm. Just like Lockyer was to the Broncos; Ettinghausen was to the Sharks; Hindmarsh was the Eels, Andrew Johns was to the Knights, Cooper Cronk is and hopefully will continue to be for the Storm. A Rugby League Melbournian for life.