COOPER Cronk will celebrate his 34th birthday as an official “Former” Origin Great, after bringing down the curtain on one of the great representative careers with Australia’s 6-0 World Cup final win over England at Suncorp Stadium.
Cronk will join long-time halves partner Johnathan Thurston in representative retirement in 2018, but both will continue on with their NRL clubs.
With Cronk departing the Storm to join the Roosters next year, it means the fabled “Big Three” of Cronk, Cameron Smith and Billy Slater have played together for the last time.
There could not have been a better stage for their final act together than the World Cup final at Suncorp, which was a genuine old-school thriller that provided further evidence international league is on the rise.
“It just felt right,” Cronk said. “Out of respect, I told Mal (Meninga, Australia coach) earlier on in the week. I also rang Kevvie Walters (Queensland State of Origin coach) on Friday afternoon.
“It’s just a fitting end.
“When I announced I was leaving Melbourne, I thought this would be it anyway.
“I’ve had a fair ride … this is the best case scenario for me and the team moving forward.”
The departure of Cronk and Thurston from the rep scene will cause a seismic shake-up next year for the Kangaroos and Maroons.
Pleasingly though, Queenslanders are queuing up to fill their spots.
Michael Morgan’s magnificent rise to superstardom in 2017, when he carried the Cowboys to the grand final in Thurston’s absence, has seen him roar into the No.1 seed spot to inherit the halfback role for Queensland and Australia next year.
Cameron Munster’s tremendous Origin debut for the Maroons in Game III this year, further seasoned by a Test debut during the World Cup, has him in the box seat to grab the No.6 jersey for Queensland and Australia.
The good news is, both Smith and Slater have vowed to return to rep footy next year to maintain some stability in the ranks after a couple of years of generational transition.
Although, it must be said, Smith may well find it hard to top the season he has had in 2017 when the new season rolls around next year.
Few in the history of rugby league have enjoyed a season like it.
In 2017, Smith captained the Storm to the NRL premiership, Queensland to a State of Origin series win, and Australia to World Cup victory.
Along the way, he broke Darren Lockyer’s record of 355 NRL matches, became the first player ever to play 40 Origin games, and just the second to play 50 Tests for Australia.
He became the first forward to score 2000 career points, broke the record for most goals scored, and broke the records for most wins and most games as captain.
He was also awarded his second Dally M Medal as the best player in the NRL, and leading into the World Cup final was awarded the prestigious Golden Boot as the best rugby league player in the world.
It was a breathtaking haul from a player that will set another personal best next year when he blows out 35 candles on his birthday cake.
Topping it in 2018 is almost unthinkable. But who would dare back against this legendary champion coming out and doing just that?