'Legend Status': Cronk's Broken Shoulder Blade To Go Down In NRL History
It will go down as one of the all-time bravest footy performances, players and coaches say.
And it came after a ridiculous fitness test that will have to go down as one of the weirdest grand final stories ever.
Cooper Cronk secretly played the NRL grand final with a broken shoulder blade, with the premiership-winning Roosters playing a week-long game of bluff and double-bluff with an intricate series of plans formulated to either replace or protect their star halfback.
Cronk, it turns out, played all but the final few minutes of the NRL Grand Final against his old club the Melbourne Storm with a broken scapula -- which for those unfamiliar with medical terminology, is more commonly known as a shoulder blade.
The club had been calling it a "rotator cuff" injury all week, in a conscious move to downplay the injury and create mystery -- in the media, in the Storm camp -- as to whether Cronk would play. Before the game, Roosters coach Trent Robinson had told Brad Fittler in an interview that Cronk was probably going to be ruled out on Friday morning.
"Then we did some other stuff Friday night and he said 'I think I can do this'," Robinson cryptically added.
The exact form of that mystical "other stuff" was always going to prove yet another excellent chapter in what is already one of the most intriguing NRL Grand Final stories in history.
And Trent Robinson gave a pretty strong indication of what he meant in an interview after the presentation and victory lap. First, the coach revealed that Cronk pretty much ruled himself out after seeing a doctor Friday morning.
Then he saw the doctor again on Friday afternoon, and "wrestled with the physio on the street". And after that, he decided he might just be right to play after all.
This really is one of the greatest grand final stories of all time. HE HAD A BROKEN SHOULDER BLADE AND WRESTLED WITH THE PHYSIO ON THE STREET AND THEN DECIDED HE WAS GOOD TO PLAY? OK then.
"Strong man," Robinson added.
Uh-huh, no kidding.
"It will come out a bit later that Cooper actually broke his scapula and that will go down in history," Roosters forward Boyd Cordner told Channel Nine after the game.
"That's a big performance by Coops and that'll go down in history, that's for sure."
Roosters coach Trent Robinson said Cronk's performance would become a "legend". Asked if he had seen a braver performance on the footy field, the coach said "never".
"I've seen guys get injured in games, but I haven't seen a guy fracture his scapula, complete break through the scapula, play 60 minutes with it, and then have to deal with it all week, have four different lots of injections during the week," he said.
"It's legend status in our game, that. And it's not an understatement."
Once the extent of Cronk's injury was finally revealed after the game was won, fans and commentators immediately drew comparisons to other legendary grand final bravery examples, like John Sattler winning the 1970 premiership with a broken jaw and Sam Burgess playing an entire game with a busted cheekbone.
Robinson also revealed a complex set of contingency plans to cover Cronk, whether he was ruled in or out of playing. Their plan was to have a forward play in the halves, centres to do kicking and passing, and a fullback steer the game like a halfback would.
But Cronk played, after a bizarre fitness test that is already the stuff of legend.
Cronk had anything but his usual impact on the game, touching the ball just 18 times. But Cordner said that "just having him at 30 percent" was enough.
Instead of running the show with the ball, Cronk appeared to run it with his mouth and his body language. Throughout the game, he could be seen helping steer the Roosters around the field.
It helped, of course, that his partner in the halves, Luke Keary, had perhaps the greatest match of his career. Keary was a deserving winner of the Clive Churchill Medal for best onfield.
Meanwhile, the man himself downplayed his bravery, paying credit to both the Roosters and the Storm.
"Everyone at this football club has done something for me, and it was just my duty to do what I could do to replay that faith," Cronk said after the game.
"I also need to thank the Melbourne Storm for everything they've done for me, especially [retiring club legends] Billy Slater and Ryan Hoffman. This is a club that provided so much to me, and the Roosters are a club that provided me a chance to start a family and play the game I love."
Cronk said that in one way, the injury was a "silver lining" in that it allowed him to take his mind off the emotion of facing the club where he made his name over 14 seasons, and where he won four grand finals.
And now he's won a fifth with the Roosters. And although he probably had less impact as a player in this grand final than any other, it's the one people will remember forever.