THE CHURCHILL MEDALLIST
Pivotal ... Churchill Medal winner Cooper Cronk. Photo: David Tease
HE was the most sought-after player on the open market earlier this season and yesterday Cooper Cronk showed why.
The Clive Churchill medallist, who was offered close to $1 million a season to leave the Storm and join rival NRL clubs, in March pledged his loyalty to the Storm for the rest of his career.
That investment the club made in the Queensland and Australian halfback hasn't taken long to pay dividends, with the No. 7 orchestrating one of the most complete performances by a football side on grand final day. The 28-year-old, who will tomorrow be named in the Kangaroos Test side to take on New Zealand in a one-off Test in Townsville in a fortnight, played an instrumental role in the Storm's victory.
Last season it was William Hopoate's flick pass that entered the highlights reel of the game's greatest grand final moments.
Last night, Cronk ensured his place on that reel with a sublime no-look pass to put Billy Slater in for a four-pointer in the first half.
Cronk looked to play deep to his outside runner but with Slater looming from his inside shoulder, he used instinct and trust to pop a ball on his outside to his partner in crime, who did the rest. It was a touch of class that overshadowed a complete performance by the playmaker on the biggest stage.
Cronk constantly challenged the line and kept the Bulldogs defence guessing. He used his vision and pin-point kicking game to set up Justin O'Neill with a try late in the first half that broke the back of the Bulldogs, who did well to be only 10-4 down before Cronk struck.
His kicking game in general was pivotal in his side's domination of the Bulldogs. "It had to be," Cronk said. "The bigger the game, the basic the skills need to be at its highest point."
The Clive Churchill Medal was the culmination of what many believe was his best season.
He not only led the Storm to their first legitimate premiership since 1999 but also kicked the field goal to seal Queensland's seventh consecutive Origin series triumph.
Cronk, who made his debut for the Storm in 2004, has now played in five grand finals in the past seven years, winning three of them.
"This club's been through a lot but 2012 for this group is what 2012 is – a tremendous year," he said.
"I'm very proud to be a member of this football club. It's been a great year but this is a great way to finish the year off."
While he, Slater and Cameron Smith received most of the accolades, Cronk paid tribute to the team's unsung heroes.
"A football team is made up of a lot of individuals and different stories," he said. "Jaiman Lowe is retiring but he's been toiling away at different NRL clubs for a long, long time. Sika Manu, Dane Nielsen and Toddie [Lowrie] are all leaving the club so it's great to finish the year off with a smile."