Cronk the saviour for Storm's season
Melbourne half-back Cooper Cronk was the villain turned hero of the Storm's season, according to his coach Craig Bellamy.by NRL
Melbourne half-back Cooper Cronk was the villain turned hero of the Storm's season, according to his coach Craig Bellamy.
Cronk carried his brilliant form from the end of the home and away season into the NRL finals, capped on Sunday night by a stunning performance that earned him the Clive Churchill medal as well as a premiership medallion.
The Storm were in top form before a post-Origin slump saw the team lose five games in a row against the Bulldogs, Raiders, Cowboys, Eels and Dragons to dent their premiership hopes.
"I probably shouldn't say this, but he [Cronk] was a big part of our five losses. I said that to him," Storm coach Craig Bellamy said after the match.
"He turned it round. He's come on leaps and bounds with his form."
Melbourne steadied the ship with a 46-6 demolition of the Panthers, followed by a win over the Titans and a nail-biting 19-18 win over the Broncos at Lang Park with Cronk slotting the match-winning field goal.
Cronk also landed a decisive one-pointer to hand Queensland a seventh-straight Origin series victory over New South Wales a month earlier.
Wins against Cronulla and Wests Tigers completed the Storm's form reversal leading into the finals, with Cronk leading the way.
The Storm half-back saved some of his best work for last, with a dominating performance in the grand final.
"He controlled the game tonight, he's had an enormous season," Bellamy added.
"He is the one man who turned our season around after five losses.
"His kicking game in the fist half was as good a kicking game as I've ever seen in a grand final.''
Cronk was in devastating form in the opening 40 minutes - he set up tries, pinned the Bulldogs deep in defence repeatedly and forced a number of line dropouts to starve them of ball and field position.
The Storm number seven had 510 kicking metres for the game, compared to just 223 for the Bulldogs' five-eighth Josh Reynolds.
Reynolds and halves partner Kris Keating struggled to keep up with Cooper's lofty standards on the last tackle, with many Canterbury attacks coming to nothing with aimless fifth-play kicks.
After the game Cronk said he was happy to win the award for best afield, but attempted to deflect some of the praise onto his title-winning team-mates.
"It's a prestigious award and a high accolade in the game," he said.
"But I'm more proud to be a member of this football team. To be a member of this club and play football with true friends and get the result, it's an honour to sit here today."
Cronk said his coach had given him a sense of priorities about consistent performance over individual glory.
"I learned from Craig to base my game around your skills, not the results," he said.
Cronk's emotional praise of his team-mates and the club ethos at the Storm was shared by Melbourne captain Cameron Smith.
"It's an emotional time, we've just won a grand final," Smith said.
"It's not just this week, it's the 26 weeks before that ... the hard work we put in, running hills and running in sand and in the gym.
"I'm just so pleased for this group especially.
"We started this year really well ... but we had so many ups and downs this year, especially after Origin.
"To put ourselves in this position to be here this week was great. I'm just ecstatic, really.
"There's a few guys moving on (from the club) who've been here for years ... including Sika Manu, and Dane Nielsen.
"Then there's guys like Jaiman Lowe, who's retiring ... he gets to finish as a premiership player. It's about fulfilling those dreams."
Source: ABC Sport
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