Sport Rugby League ‘One of the greatest halfbacks of all time’: Thurston has Cooper Cronk as role model
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‘One of the greatest halfbacks of all time’: Thurston has Cooper Cronk as role model

cooper-cronk
All guns blazing, Cronk flies during the first NRL qualifying final against the South Sydney Rabbitohs on September 13. Photo: AAP
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If Johnathan Thurston was to give the next generation of halves one player to model their game on, it would be Cooper Cronk.

It’s perhaps the ultimate compliment from the NRL’s finest player of this century.

But it’s rightly deserved given Sunday night against Canberra will mark the Sydney Roosters halfback’s ninth grand final and possibly his sixth win.

More remarkable is the fact that kind of comment about Cronk would surely have been odds of 1000-1 just over 15 years ago.

Back in 2004, when Cronk debuted for Melbourne off the bench against Cronulla he ran the ball just three times and made only 10 tackles.

For two years he wasn’t even a natural halfback, instead plugging holes as a bench player in the middle, at five-eighth, hooker, fullback and wherever required.

Storm coach Craig Bellamy even admitted this week he didn’t know what position he should play when he arrived at the club.

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Storm coach Craig Bellamy embraces Rooster Cooper Cronk following the Roosters win over the Storm on September 28. Photo: AAP

But some 371 games after his first and with his retirement imminent, his record guiding teams around is unmatched in this era.

“It’s insane to think he was playing just about every position in the field and then moulded himself into one of the greatest halfbacks of all time,” Thurston told AAP.

“You have a look at his stats and his records. Nine grand finals, he has won five. It’s remarkable.

“Just his work ethic, how disciplined he is with his preparation. How he gets the best out of his body week in, week out.

“All that knowledge in his brain, football wise. There is no better that goes out there and executes a game plan.

“He knows how to turn the screws and turn momentum. He will go down as one of the greats.”

Thurston knows Cronk better than most.

The pair won State of Origins alongside each other for eight years and a World Cup for Australia.

“He is a once-in-a-generation halfback,” Thurston said.

“If I had young halfbacks coming though, I would be getting those kids to pick his brain as much as possible.

“There is so much knowledge there and he knows how to pass it on.

“When I was coming through I was watching Joey (Andrew Johns) and Locky (Darren Lockyer) quite closely and tried to mould my game on them.

“These kids that are coming through now have access to all this. If I was a young kid coming through and I was playing halfback, Cooper is who I would be watching.”

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Jonathan Thurston pays Cooper Cronk the ultimate compliment ahead of Sunday night’s NRL grand final in Sydney. Photo: AAP

Cronk will on Sunday night aim to pull off one of the few things he’s never achieved in his career: defend a premiership with the same team.

For while he has twice played four straight grand finals and won with Melbourne in 2017 and the Roosters in 2018, it would be fitting if he broke the 26-year back-to-back curse.

But Thurston knows how hard that is.

He spearheaded North Queensland’s title assault in 2015 before falling a week short in 2016.

“What we found in 2016 compared to 2015, the teams we played every week, they’re stats when they played us were through the roof,” Thurston said.

“When you are the premiers you’re a target, they hunt and they lift for you. It’s so hard for you.”

And while Thurston grew up a Raiders fan, he is backing Cronk to go out a winner.

“It’s not a fluke that success follows (Cooper) wherever he goes. It’s a massive opportunity for him,” Thurston said.

-AAP