Cooper Cronk has turned his back on the Melbourne Storm in the final years of his career to put love and his partner’s career before himself.
The Melbourne halfback today announced he would quit the club for love after 14 NRL seasons with Storm to marry sports television presenter partner Tara Rushton at the end of the season.
Cronk said he was in any case spending all of his spare time in Sydney, which is where his heart is.
“I get on a plane every other spare minute in Melbourne, and it’s getting harder to get back on that plane to come back so in the best interest of this football club, it’s the right decision at the right time,” an emotional Cronk said, flanked by Storm coach Craig Bellamy and club chief executive Dave Donaghy.
“Tara, my fiancee, is based in Sydney, and there’s a few things in life that are more important than football, like family, getting married and a future.
“I’ve been pretty selfish in my approach to my football career and I think it’s time I put someone else and something else first.”
Cronk said he wanted a family as well as football and with Storm, he could not have both. But in Sydney, he can.
“I feel like I’m one of the luckiest players to have played the game — to have the things that have happened to me collectively and as an individual but sometimes there’s more to life than football,” Cronk said.
“I’m jealous of the guys who have their families here, that have their football and loved ones in the same city.”
In 2016, Ms Rushton encouraged Cronk to sign a contract extension with Melbourne to remain a one-club player, but he put in an exit clause after one year in case his feelings changed.
The 33-year-old said it was time to put someone else first.
“We’ve had thousands of discussions about the possibilities,” Cronk said.
“She’s (Tara) worked really hard to get where she is and I’m not about to ask her or force her to give up what she’s worked so hard for.
“I think I’m in the position to sacrifice and I’m more than willing to do that for our relationship.”
Bellamy said he was shocked that Cronk would choose to walk away, but understood his predicament.
Sydney clubs begin bidding for Cronk
Test halfback Cooper Cronk has set the scene for a bidding war among Sydney NRL clubs for his signature after announcing he’ll leave Melbourne at the end of the season.
The two-time Dally M Medal winner said he did not know where his playing career after Storm lay, but he feels mentally and physically ready to play for at least another two years.
He won the premiership with the Storm in 2012 and played in two more grand final-winning sides that had their titles stripped for salary cap breaches.
Canterbury have become the first Sydney club to express an interest in Cronk following the star playmaker’s shock decision to leave Melbourne.
Canterbury coach Des Hasler on Monday signed a two-year contract extension on Monday and he must turn his attention to his roster amid speculation the club will see notable turnover in the off-season with five-eighth Josh Reynolds, misfiring hooker Michael Lichaa and fullback Will Hopoate all off contract.
Asked if the Dogs would go to the open market, Hasler said they would have an interest in any player of Cronk’s calibre.
“Obviously you’re talking about the big four (Wests Tigers stars Moses, Brooks, James Tedesco and Aaron Woods) and people like Cooper Cronk,” Hasler said.
“Any recruitment and retention committee is going to look at those players but at the moment there have been no formal approaches.”
The Dogs’ interest in Cronk will likely depend on the fate of Reynolds, considered a fan favourite at Belmore.
The Eels shape as a possible destination for Cronk with coach Brad Arthur a possible key to luring him to Sydney’s west.
Arthur worked with Cronk during his time as Melbourne’s assistant coach in 2010 and he implemented many of Storm coach Craig Bellamy’s systems at the Eels.
A halves partnership of Cronk and Corey Norman could instantly transform them into a premiership force.
Defending premiers Cronulla could also make a play for Cronk, however they would have to significantly reshuffle their line-up.