Cooper Cronk’s seat at the table of rugby league’s greatest players is assured after FOG No.168 walked into retirement with a remarkable sixth grand final win under his belt after leading the Roosters to a 14-8 win in the 2019 NRL decider.
Every player dreams of finishing their final season with a premiership win, but few have been able to match Cronk’s incredible achievement of winning three in a row with two different clubs to sign off on one of the great careers.
Cronk won the 2017 grand final with Melbourne, before moving to the Sydney Roosters in 2018, where he led the Bondi-based club to become the first team since the Brisbane Broncos of 1992-1993 to win back-to-back titles in a unified competition.
It was a fitting slice of history for Cronk to add to an extraordinary resume that already included two Dally M Medals as NRL player of the year, the Golden Boot as best player in the world in 2016, a Churchill Medal, five gongs as Dally M Halfback of the Year and the FOGS Tosser Turner Medal for playing more than 20 State of Origin games for Queensland.
The sheer weight of numbers from Cronk’s career are enough to have his name mentioned in any discussion about the game’s greatest players, but statistics do not measure his toughness and resilience, or the influence he had on matches that would define his career.
Statistics will show that he won six grand finals in nine appearances, but won’t show how he had to play though the agony of a broken shoulder blade to steer the Roosters to the title in 2018 in an extraordinary display of courage.
He played 38 Tests for Australia and 22 games for the Maroons, but those numbers won’t reflect the number of times he proved to be the difference between his team winning or losing.
Cronk broke his arm early in the first game of the 2014 Origin series. Without him, Queensland lost their first series after eight years of success in a row.
When he returned six weeks later to play in Origin III, he helped the Maroons get revenge by burying NSW 32-8.
It would be the only series Queensland would lose in Cronk’s eight years in the Maroon jersey.
Perhaps the greatest indicator of Cronk’s greatness is that he was able to stand so tall while playing alongside some of the giants of the game.
With Melbourne, Queensland and Australia, Cronk was among a core group of players that included Cameron Smith, Billy Slater, Greg Inglis, Johnathan Thurston and Darren Lockyer – all of whom have been talked about as future rugby league Immortals.
Just as he did as a player, even among the greatest players the game has seen, Cronk looks right at home.