‘Astonishing’: Cronk’s Immortal moment
After 375 games, the curtain has come down on Roosters star Cooper Cronk's glittering career with a contentious finish to end a controversial season.
Nine Grand Finals, four premiership with another two stripped but Cronk's grand finale to his career has ended in controversy.
In a season with sin bins and plenty of controversial calls ranging from protection of playmakers to the open handed slap, the Grand Final offered a series of blunders and calls that divided fans and Cronk was at the centre of it.
While he wasn't a big part of the already infamous "six again" drama that engulfed the final, Cronk did look to be on the wrong side of a decisive moment.
The diminutive 35-year-old half was staring down the prospect of a one-on-one tackle on Josh Papalii and was caught out by the slimmest of margins.
Up 8-6, a try would have put the Roosters behind the eight-ball and with a split-second reaction, the hit was necessary to hold the rampaging Raiders at bay.
While he spoiled the try, the call was sent up stairs as a possible penalty try, despite Papalii being more than five metres out for the line.
The video referee said it wasn't a penalty try but that it was a professional foul.
"It's not a professional foul - he can't go to the bin," captain Boyd Cordner pleaded with the referee but the Roosters were down a man with Cronk given a 10-minute break.
After the sin bin, Channel 9 commentator Phil Gould said: "That's really harsh, it's the kind of call that can change a game. That is an extremely tough decision, there is a split second in this."
Andrew Johns agreed and said "I'm with you Gus, that's not a sin bin," before relenting and saying "at least they're consistent".
The fans were split with the decision as social media exploded
How can Cronk get sent off but it's not a penalty try?— Tim Michell (@tim_michell) October 6, 2019
Genuinely curious about the rule #NRLGF
While it was far from the biggest controversy of the night in the end, the 10 minutes without Cronk was what the Roosters' premiership was built on.
Repelling the Raiders during the all-important period meant the Roosters came out ahead, despite being even on the scoreboard.
The performance while he was off the field almost spoke louder than while he was out there with the Roosters.
He instructed his halves partner Luke Keary to "Hang on, hang on for me", which the Roosters did.
Cronk praised his side for the way they survived the Raiders' onslaught.
"Help", Cronk told Channel 9. "It's not ideal, I'm not here to criticise the referees but I didn't think it was a sin bin.
"But I'll tell you what, it took heart and soul for this football club to defend for that time and then to counter that by scoring points when I got back.
" … This club cops a lot of criticism but it's got one big heart, a hell of a soul and a lot of good people involved with it."
Cronk was chaired off by his teammates with Boyd Cordner and Jard Waerea-Hargreaves carrying him on their shoulders.
9 GFs for 7 🏆. Astonishing career. Well played Cooper Cronk. That’s TB12 esq.— Luke Elvy (@Luke_Elvy) October 6, 2019
Having made his ninth Grand Final, Cronk the only player of the NRL era to do so and behind only Norm Provan and Brian Clay, while matching Eddie Lumsden and Ron Coote with nine for most Grand Final appearances in rugby league history.
He also became the first player in 36 years to win three straight premierships, joining a group of Parramatta players from the club's 1981-83 golden era.
Cronk became the first player in 44 years - and the sixth in history - to win back-to-back premierships with different clubs last year after overcoming a broken scapula to lead his side to victory, and has now made them the first club since the 1992-93 Broncos to win consecutive titles.
Cordner made special mention of Cronk before he accepted the premiership trophy.
"I just want to make special mention of our little halfback Cooper Cronk, what a career you've had, we've been blessed to have you at the Sydney Roosters," he said. "What you have done for this team and this club will never be forgotten. We love ya, we wish you all the best in retirement and we'll make sure we celebrate this one for you mate."
Cronk said he was the beneficiary of jumping on the back of players who had changed the way the game was played "and just had fun along the way".
But Cronk has is now well in the conversation of Immortality following an incredible career.
Former Souths and Eastern Suburbs legend Ron Coote said Cronk should be considered to be an Immortal alongside the likes of Johnathan Thurston, Cameron Smith and Billy Slater.
"I think he would be up there with them. He is as good as I have seen," Coote said.
Thurston also suggested Cronk should be seen as one of the great halfbacks while Phil Gould and Darren Lockyer admitted his incredible record set Cronk apart.
Roosters coach Trent Robinson had the most glowing comments for Cronk.
"The man is a skilful player but not exceptional. But the way he has made every team better that he has played for, and I have to give a big rap to the Melbourne Storm," Robinson said in the post-match press conference.
"I know we got to run off some of the fibres they've put into him … what he has done is changed the fortunes of our club. He's one of the greatest gentleman that I have met in the game as well."
While Cronk has been uncomfortable being mentioned in the same breath as the greats.
"From a young kid watching footy I've been blessed to be able play this game and it's just a humbling experience to be able to live out a dream and to be able to have some success at the end of it," Cronk said.
"But I'll tell you what, I'm ready for retirement, I've had enough and these grey hairs are getting too much."
Honestly. If he catches the ball like he’s supposed to, he tackles him. No one bats an eyelid. Papalii is in the defensive line already...— Trent Copeland (@copes9) October 6, 2019
Biased. Yeah yeah blah blah. It’s a split second decision error not a professional foul. 🤦🏽♂️ #NRLGrandFinal
That is a truly ridiculous call for a grand final - Cooper Cronk sinbinned in final game - should give Roosters even more motivation #NRLGF— cameron adams (@cameron_adams) October 6, 2019
The right call. Cronk hit Papali’i early. If not the Raiders prop would have scored. Canberra coming home strong #NRLGrandFinal— Jamie Pandaram (@JamiePandaram) October 6, 2019
Wwwwoooooowwww. Cronk hero with one arm last year. Now? Brutal way to go out if @sydneyroosters lose.— Alex Hart (@alexhart7) October 6, 2019
I think they got the call right but this is huge. Cronk gone for 10. He definitely hits the player before the contact with the ball. It's harsh but rules are rules. #NRLGF— Alexander Grant (@AlexGrantOz) October 6, 2019