Cooper Cronk’s re-signing means the ‘Big Three’ aren’t breaking up, with Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy calling it a once-in-a-lifetime show of loyalty.
Storm halfback Cronk has penned a two-year contract extension, tying him to the NRL club until the end of 2018.
Cronk, Cameron Smith and Billy Slater will now almost certainly start and finish their rugby league journeys with Melbourne.
It is a combination that has produced countless highlights and wins – at NRL, State of Origin and international level.
Bellamy, never a man for histrionics or hyperbole, noted on Friday he felt “blessed” to be part of the Queensland superstars’ story.
“It’s been a pretty special relationship. I started my coaching career when they started their playing career in the NRL basically,” Bellamy said.
“I’m pretty sure they’re going to finish their careers at the Melbourne Storm.
“These days players swap clubs more than they ever have.
“To have three key-position players at the one club – and probably the big thing, playing at such a high level for so long – it’s really special.
“I couldn’t imagine that ever happening again … it’s been a little bit romantic in a footy sense. I feel very blessed to be a little part of it.”
Cronk wouldn’t be drawn on whether he could play on beyond 2018, while Bellamy wasn’t ready to nominate a likely swansong date for any of the three.
“They’re certainly not dipping. They’ve probably gone to another little level,” Bellamy said of Cronk and Smith, with Slater currently sidelined because of a shoulder injury.
“At their age now, they don’t improve in big chunks but … every day they’re looking to get a little bit better and trying to make the team a little bit better.
“They can play as long as they like, provided they’ve still got that hunger.”
Cronk admitted on Friday he was tempted by the “emotional” pull of living with his partner in Sydney, suggesting it’s likely to be home once he retires.
But the 32-year-old added “everything I’ve got in life is down to Melbourne Storm”, the club he has played almost 300 games for since debuting in 2004.
“I’ve had some memories I never thought would be possible and hopefully there’s still some really great ones to come,” Cronk said of the second-placed Storm.
“We have shared special moments and milestones, both on and off the field.
“There’s no doubt we’ve inspired one another .. it’s something we’ll hold close to our hearts when time sets on our careers.”
Cronk indicated he was unlikely to retire from rep football soon.
“I want to play for those teams as long as I possibly can. It’s a humbling experience, I love it,” he said.