Honk, honk, here comes Cronk*
I’m mentally all over the place ahead of this game as a whole pile of thoughts come to me. Traditional rivalry, classic previous clashes, current form, extraneous personal factors, Almanac pressure…I can’t find a pattern or focus.
A strong southerly change blew through the south-east of Queensland during Friday afternoon – is this a precursor for the Storm who have swept all before them for the past 18 months? If so, woe to my Broncos, all the more so given the late withdrawal of Hodges because of his gammy hammy. Or is it about a personal moving-on point as this will be my last Friday night game at Rock Street ahead of a retirement move to the Sunshine Coast next week? The eight year-long “downstairs-on-Friday-night” ritual is about to end.
I think back to the Sunday afternoon before Christmas. My sister-in-law shouted us to the Melbourne preview of the stage production “Warhorse” and, as we waited in the foyer for the theatre doors to open, Ryan Hoffman emerged from the elevator – a real life warhorse of the rugby league variety. Who said RL players have no culture?
While I abhor the pernicious presence of online betting, I lament the absence of Jaimee Rogers who has been replaced by the egregious Tom Waterhouse; at least we’ve got Ray Warren and not Ray Hadley in commentary, a small mercy.
I support the Broncos but I admire the Storm. Some find them too structured and boring automatons; others think they wrestle and cheat; others simply have a visceral hatred for the men in purple. Perhaps it’s just envy of their success. Although they are not without their faults, I think they’re highly skilled, very well drilled, patient, confident about their ability and a wonderful mix of workhorses and star “go to” men.
It’s difficult to think of something original to say about Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater. They have an on-ground telepathy to match the Walters brothers and Alfie Langer from the past and rivalled only by the Thurston/Bowen combination among current players. It’s beautiful to watch even if you barrack for the opposition. Witness the outrageous Cronk chip kick from his own 30-metre line for a flying Slater to race into space and set up Duffie to score in the corner in the shadow of halftime. Then consider the composure and pinpoint accuracy of the Cronk bomb in unusually unstructured Melbourne play for Slater to take a high-flying mark AFL-style and score to regain the lead from a surging second half Brisbane. And, for icing on the cake, look again at Cronk’s step into space and quick pass to faster outside men for Duffie’s second try to seal the game. Just too good, too often.
It wasn’t all one-way traffic, however. After 20 minutes of Melbourne shock and awe, the Broncos fought back well on the back of strong work from Hannant, Anderson and, later, Thaiday to control the middle half of the game. Hoffman scored a hat-trick to match Slater. Reed and Norman showed a bit of form. Melbourne looked soft in the middle and weak on their right side defence. Other teams will file this away for future reference.
In the end, it was the composure of the Storm and a lack thereof by the Broncos that saw the Melbourne boys win by six points. Bellamy must worry about 26 points conceded; Brisbane will take heart from regaining the capacity to score points.
After starting the night unsure of where my head was, I climbed the stairs at game’s end with two words implanted in my brain – Cooper Cronk. Slater got the headlines but Cronk is the key: vision, poise, skill, tenacity, strength, endurance – he’s got them all.
The last word goes to Ray Warren in commentary who forged a link between (Good) Friday night football and the Easter season. When Hoffman went over for what would be his first try, the referee went upstairs for adjudication, unconvinced of the veracity of Hoffman’s efforts, only to be overruled by the video ref. Rabs, wittingly or unwittingly, in his salute to the theological niceties of the Easter narrative referred to the on-field ref as “Doubting Thomas”. Good one, Ray!
Melbourne 32 (Tries: Slater 3, Duffie 2, Sa’u Goals: Smith 4/6)
Brisbane 26 (Tries: Hoffman 3, Reed, Glen Goals: Prince 3/5)
*Attribution: I remember this headline from a late 1960s CourierMail story about a BRL club match featuring the Past Brothers team which included a player named Cronk.