Cronk looks ahead to 301
Now officially an NRL 300-gamer, Melbourne halfback Cooper Cronk is just excited about getting the chance to play his 301st next Sunday.
Cronk was the subject of fanfare and media attention all week in the lead-up to Saturday night's preliminary final against the Raiders, and he kept centre stage during the game to lead from the front with a try and many critical plays in the Storm's 14-12 win.
As someone who usually likes to take a backseat to the team's success, Cronk said he always had his eyes on the bigger picture: a spot in the 2016 NRL Telstra Premiership Grand Final.
"It's not ideal being front and centre, my personality is a bit more offset and in the background but I think we needed to embrace it; it's a special moment, I've been truly humbled all week… but I'm just glad we were able to get the job done," Cronk said.
"[The magnitude of the game] obviously makes the celebration and game 300 really special, but there was something greater up for grabs tonight and we got that.
"I've been really fortunate to play a lot of football, and I'm pretty excited about playing game 301."
Canberra drew first blood on Saturday night through Jordan Rapana before the Storm's No.7 hit back late in the first half, and a try to Cheyse Blair with 20 minutes to go stretched Melbourne's lead out to one the Raiders couldn't claw back, even with Elliott Whitehead making it a tense final five minutes for the home side with a try in the corner.
At times during the game the Storm were closing to crumbling under the pressure, but Cronk knew his side had planned for any event on Saturday night and he hopes they can do the same for just one more week.
"In games of this nature you've just got to stay involved, back our defence, give yourself an opportunity to win the game," Cronk said.
"At some stage you go close and get a little disappointed but you just get up and go again, keep plugging away.
"We've got a great coaching staff and they come up with the game plan and structures and ideas about how to break down oppositions, so we trust them whole heartedly and just keep sticking to the game plan and hopefully it can come up trumps once again [on Sunday]."
Melbourne will face Cronulla in next weekend's decider and the two teams will be quite familiar with each other given their recent clash in Round 26.
The Storm prevailed 26-6 in that encounter to take home the minor premiership, while the Sharks defeated Melbourne 14-6 back in Round 4.
"It's what grand finals are all about, it's about the best teams and the best players playing against each other for a pretty big reward," Cronk said.
"I'm really looking forward to it. Cronulla had a really good year, winning 15 straight, so it's in front of us. We've won one and they won one [this season] so it's really up for grabs.
"I suppose whoever prepares the best and then goes out and executes the game plan will go a long way in deciding the outcome."