Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy is hoping Cooper Cronk’s 300th game will inspire the Storm to go harder for longer against Canberra in Saturday night’s NRL preliminary final.
A grand final berth is plenty of incentive for a big performance at AAMI Park but Bellamy wants his team to help their champion halfback celebrate the rare milestone in a fitting way.
Just 25 players have reached the mark, while Cronk and skipper Cameron Smith will become the first 300-games to play together in the same team.
“It’s obviously a big game, the preliminary final, but you can’t go past Cooper’s milestone,” Bellamy said.
“We’re not going out there just to play Cooper’s 300th game but it’s a milestone we want to give some time to as it’s a remarkable achievement and it needs recognition.
“Hopefully the boys will get something out of that and it will help them go a little bit harder for a little bit longer on Saturday night.”
Bellamy said he was “in awe” of players who managed to play as many matches in this era, given the intensity and pace of the game.
Cronk, who made his first grade debut in 2003, is the Test No.7 while he has been an integral cog in Queensland’s long-time State of Origin dominance.
Bellamy said that the 32-year-old wasn’t the most talented player he had coached but he was the most hard-working.
“Cooper’s gone a long way on the talent he’s been given,” Bellamy said.
“I haven’t seen anyone work as hard skill-wise on his game than Cooper did in the early days.”
Cronk was grateful to the Storm and his coach, feeling that he wouldn’t have become the great player he is without them.
“No disrespect to any other football club but I’m probably a 100-150 game player somewhere else if it wasn’t for the influence of Craig,” Cronk said.
“For him to give me the opportunity and the environment, atmosphere and resources I’ve had, I’m pretty fortunate.”
Cronk wanted to put the plaudits aside and return the focus to their grand final qualifier.
“It’s a massive achievement but there’s something greater on offer and I want that to be at the forefront,” he said.
“Saturday night is a moment bigger than any individual milestone… winning the game if the most important thing.”
Meanwhile, Melbourne’s only injury concern, lock Dale Finucane was on light training duties on Wednesday but was on track to play.