Mate vs mate.  Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith in last year's NRL grand final.
Mate vs mate. Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith in last year's NRL grand final.

Cronk revealed as the real top dog in Storm’s trio of terror

COOPER Cronk reckons he was the lucky bloke sandwiched between two future Immortals while at the Melbourne Storm - but the rest of the game isn't buying it.

Cronk's retirement announcement on Monday has led to a flood of glowing praise and humble revelations about the champion playmaker's stature in the game.

On Monday night, rugby league guru Phil Gould  declared Cronk's body of work demanded recognition for the playmaker as a future Immortal alongside former Storm teammates Slater and Cameron Smith.

Much more than that, Gould revealed a telling conversation with Slater that pointed to Cronk being the true power at the Storm and the true focal point of the club's iconic "Big Three".

"I remember talking to Billy Slater on a Footy Show masterclass one night," Gould told Nine's 100% Footy.

"And I said, 'Who's the boss down there? You've got yourself, Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk.' And Billy's reply was, 'What Cooper wants, Cooper gets', and I think that's how important he was to them all."

Storm coach Craig Bellamy also revealed Cronk's stature as the team's on-field general, despite Smith's standing as the club's captain.

"I still think for me, the best part of his game is how he manages a game," Bellamy said during a press conference on Monday.

"He can pick the right thing to do in a situation. When Cameron was taking the kicks at goal, it was Cooper in the player huddle telling the team, 'This is what we need to do next'.

"He could read things better than anyone."

While Cronk suggested he was simply the third wheel at the Storm - history is still yet to decide the pecking order of greatness and significance to the Storm and to the sport between Smith, Slater and Cronk.

Brothers in arms. Cooper Cronk, Cameron Smith and Billy Slater. Picture: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images
Brothers in arms. Cooper Cronk, Cameron Smith and Billy Slater. Picture: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Gould said there was no reason all three of them shouldn't be inducted into the Immortal Hall of Fame in the future - despite the game's unprecedented number of champions gracing the game in recent years, including Johnathan Thurston and Greg Inglis.

"He will be an Immortal," Gould told Channel 9.

"They'll be remembered as a very special group, and I think the Melbourne Storm and Craig Bellamy need to take a lot of credit for that for what they've created down there.

"I'm sure those boys would recognise it and they recognise their importance to each other. Cooper Cronk helped make those other players great, but they helped make him great as well."

Bellamy also said Cronk sold himself short during his retirement announcement.

"He's been a big part of the three-wheel mobile or whatever you'd like to call it," the Storm mentor said.

"He's been outstanding.

"I see myself as being a small part of his career; but it's been an honour to be along for most of the ride."

Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk worked their magic as Kangaroos. Picture: Dan Peled/AAP
Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk worked their magic as Kangaroos. Picture: Dan Peled/AAP

When asked to list Cronk's greatest qualities as a player, Bellamy included an appetite for hard work and professionalism, as evidenced by the way he became a great halfback at a relatively late age, having never played there until he turned 22.

Cronk's first couple of seasons at the Storm were spent mostly as a utility off the bench, filling in at five-eighth, or at fullback for Slater, or at hooker for Smith.

Then when Matt Orford left for Manly at the conclusion of the 2005 season, a vacancy arose in the No.7 jersey.

"I don't know any players who have done that and I don't know too many players who would apply themselves so hard for so long to get to the level he got to so quickly," said Bellamy.

"Cooper took the luck out of it.

"He wasn't a great kicker of the footy but he took a bit of advice from a couple of the AFL guys and then just practised, practised, practised, practised.

"He was always the last guy to leave training.

"He put so much time and effort into making that halfback spot his and then all off a sudden, he blossomed and he was the Origin halfback, the Australian halfback.

"We've had some great leaders in our club and he's been one of the great leaders.

"When something needed to happen on the field, Cooper knew what it was and he made it happen."

- with AAP