Infotainment Factory: The Cronk hole burning revamped Storm

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Tuesday, 12 March 2019

The Cronk hole burning revamped Storm


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Somewhere, Bryan Norrie is shaking his head. Jaiman Lowe may be crying.

Elsewhere, Cooper Cronk is polishing a Roosters premiership medal.

As for Billy Slater, he’s traded a legendary career for the Channel Nine commentary box.

It’s been a remarkable period of transformation for the Storm, even though Melbourne is a club entirely accustomed to upheaval. Between Slater, Ryan Hoffman and Tim Glasby, they lost 758 games-worth of experience from their 2018 grand final team. The number rises to 1081 if you count the 323 Storm games they lost with Cronk's exit, to grand final conqueror Sydney, the previous season.

Up front, the change has been organic and they are well-equipped to deal with losing Queensland prop Glasby. They got Jesse Bromwich and Nelson Asofa-Solomona young; it just happens that they’ve turned into two of the NRL’s premier props.

The era of Norrie-like journeymen filling the Storm front-row is over. This front-row pairing is dynamite and Slater reckons he noticed the difference.

“Nelson Asofa-Solomona has taken his game to another level and can be the best front-rower in the game with consistency,” Slater told Wide World of Sports of the 200cm, 115kg giant.

“It just helps [having elite props]. It helps with your momentum, just creating that momentum. When you’ve got big guys like Nelson Asofa-Solomona and Jesse Bromwich, they just cart the ball forward and create those quick play-the-balls for your team.

“You need a good mix in your football team these days, it’s very hard to be one-dimensional. You need to be able to play up over the advantage line very fast, but you also need that skill out wide to create opportunities.

“Defences are too good these days, they shut a lot of the opportunities down, so you need to be quite crafty with how you create them.”

Craftiness is the domain of soon-to-be 400-gamer Cameron Smith, plus Test star Cameron Munster. But the man truly in the hotseat, still trying to turn himself into Cronk 2.0, is young halfback Brodie Croft. Cronk is irreplaceable but by the same token, his place is yet to be adequately filled.

“When he first came in, he looked like a clone of Cooper Cronk. He’s just got to find that consistency,” Immortal and iconic No.7 Andrew Johns told Wide World of Sports.

Croft, 21, was the Storm’s grand final halfback last season, but not before Ryley Jacks and Jahrome Hughes spent time at No.7. Smith and Slater even took touches at first-receiver.

Jacks is now at the Titans, while Hughes is playing fullback; he has first crack at Slater’s No.1 jersey after an injury to rival Scott Drinkwater. With New Zealand Test hooker Brandon Smith on the bench, the Storm are well-served at No.9 if they’re forced to push Smith into more regular playmaking duties. A Smith-Munster combination must be tempting.

Croft will hope to take that option off the table by impressing coach Craig Bellamy early. He has the halfback jersey for Round 1 against Brisbane on Thursday night.

“Consistency is his best friend. That’s what he needs to focus on, and he’s doing that,” Slater said.

“He’s a really hard worker and he’s a professional young man. He’ll work his way to that consistency. He’s only young and playing in a highly-pressured position isn’t easy. He’s had that year under his belt now and hopefully he can kick on from there.”

That would be the Storm's greatest hope for this season, especially with the state of the halfback market. Parramatta's Mitchell Moses is the best No.7 coming off contract.

As for fullback, Drinkwater looked the pick of the post-Slater crop before going down with a pectoral injury in pre-season. Replacing a potential Immortal is no easy task, but Slater has hopes for the contenders.

“Scott Drinkwater has come a long way,” Slater said.

“Jahrome Hughes has probably got the experience on Drinky at the moment and young Ryan Papenhuyzen was really impressive in his two trials with the club. There’s a bit of competition there.

“Now Drinky’s probably going to be on the sidelines for a few weeks, Jahrome gets first crack. But I was really impressed with Ryan Papenhuyzen, I think he’s going to get an opportunity this year some time.

“Our depth is quite inexperienced, so whether Craig does like he did last year with our halves, chopped and changed. It’s a long year and it’s hard to sustain that consistency. Jahrome is a fantastic player and missed last trial with a calf, but it’s good to have him on board as well.”

Scott Drinkwater

While Hughes has made good contributions in the No.1 jersey in the past, he did not make a happy start to this pre-season. After New Zealand’s tour of England and a holiday with his partner, the 24-year-old fronted for pre-season underdone … and Bellamy went nuclear.

"I still have nightmares about it," Hughes said this week.

"I remember him calling me in and telling me what he thought. But it was good for me, I think I needed that at the time and I sort of snapped out of it right away and got back into training pretty hard, and the fitness came back pretty quickly after that.

"I didn't think I was too bad. I didn't realise how bad I was until I came back and did a test.

"I went over there and didn’t get much game time. I guess I didn't train as hard as I should have [while I was away], but I quickly got a bit of a wake-up call from Craig and got myself into gear and it didn’t take me long to get back to my fitness."

Hughes, 24, said he had been forced by Drinkwater, 21, to lift his game.

"Drinky was training the house down. It's just so unfortunate for him to get an injury so severe like that," Hughes said.

"Just to see how good Drinky was going [through the pre-season] was sort of another wake-up call … that motivated me that I needed to step up a bit."

Somewhere, Bryan Norrie is shaking his head. Jaiman Lowe may be crying.

Elsewhere, Cooper Cronk is polishing a Roosters premiership medal.

As for Billy Slater, he’s traded a legendary career for the Channel Nine commentary box.

It’s been a remarkable period of transformation for the Storm, even though Melbourne is a club entirely accustomed to upheaval. Between Slater, Ryan Hoffman and Tim Glasby, they lost 758 games-worth of experience from their 2018 grand final team. The number rises to 1081 if you count the 323 Storm games they lost with Cronk's exit, to grand final conqueror Sydney, the previous season.

Up front, the change has been organic and they are well-equipped to deal with losing Queensland prop Glasby. They got Jesse Bromwich and Nelson Asofa-Solomona young; it just happens that they’ve turned into two of the NRL’s premier props.

The era of Norrie-like journeymen filling the Storm front-row is over. This front-row pairing is dynamite and Slater reckons he noticed the difference.

“Nelson Asofa-Solomona has taken his game to another level and can be the best front-rower in the game with consistency,” Slater told Wide World of Sports of the 200cm, 115kg giant.

“It just helps [having elite props]. It helps with your momentum, just creating that momentum. When you’ve got big guys like Nelson Asofa-Solomona and Jesse Bromwich, they just cart the ball forward and create those quick play-the-balls for your team.

“You need a good mix in your football team these days, it’s very hard to be one-dimensional. You need to be able to play up over the advantage line very fast, but you also need that skill out wide to create opportunities.

“Defences are too good these days, they shut a lot of the opportunities down, so you need to be quite crafty with how you create them.”

Craftiness is the domain of soon-to-be 400-gamer Cameron Smith, plus Test star Cameron Munster. But the man truly in the hotseat, still trying to turn himself into Cronk 2.0, is young halfback Brodie Croft. Cronk is irreplaceable but by the same token, his place is yet to be adequately filled.

“When he first came in, he looked like a clone of Cooper Cronk. He’s just got to find that consistency,” Immortal and iconic No.7 Andrew Johns told Wide World of Sports.

Croft, 21, was the Storm’s grand final halfback last season, but not before Ryley Jacks and Jahrome Hughes spent time at No.7. Smith and Slater even took touches at first-receiver.

Jacks is now at the Titans, while Hughes is playing fullback; he has first crack at Slater’s No.1 jersey after an injury to rival Scott Drinkwater. With New Zealand Test hooker Brandon Smith on the bench, the Storm are well-served at No.9 if they’re forced to push Smith into more regular playmaking duties. A Smith-Munster combination must be tempting.

Croft will hope to take that option off the table by impressing coach Craig Bellamy early. He has the halfback jersey for Round 1 against Brisbane on Thursday night.

“Consistency is his best friend. That’s what he needs to focus on, and he’s doing that,” Slater said.

“He’s a really hard worker and he’s a professional young man. He’ll work his way to that consistency. He’s only young and playing in a highly-pressured position isn’t easy. He’s had that year under his belt now and hopefully he can kick on from there.”

That would be the Storm's greatest hope for this season, especially with the state of the halfback market. Parramatta's Mitchell Moses is the best No.7 coming off contract.

As for fullback, Drinkwater looked the pick of the post-Slater crop before going down with a pectoral injury in pre-season. Replacing a potential Immortal is no easy task, but Slater has hopes for the contenders.

“Scott Drinkwater has come a long way,” Slater said.

“Jahrome Hughes has probably got the experience on Drinky at the moment and young Ryan Papenhuyzen was really impressive in his two trials with the club. There’s a bit of competition there.

“Now Drinky’s probably going to be on the sidelines for a few weeks, Jahrome gets first crack. But I was really impressed with Ryan Papenhuyzen, I think he’s going to get an opportunity this year some time.

“Our depth is quite inexperienced, so whether Craig does like he did last year with our halves, chopped and changed. It’s a long year and it’s hard to sustain that consistency. Jahrome is a fantastic player and missed last trial with a calf, but it’s good to have him on board as well.”

Scott Drinkwater

While Hughes has made good contributions in the No.1 jersey in the past, he did not make a happy start to this pre-season. After New Zealand’s tour of England and a holiday with his partner, the 24-year-old fronted for pre-season underdone … and Bellamy went nuclear.

"I still have nightmares about it," Hughes said this week.

"I remember him calling me in and telling me what he thought. But it was good for me, I think I needed that at the time and I sort of snapped out of it right away and got back into training pretty hard, and the fitness came back pretty quickly after that.

"I didn't think I was too bad. I didn't realise how bad I was until I came back and did a test.

"I went over there and didn’t get much game time. I guess I didn't train as hard as I should have [while I was away], but I quickly got a bit of a wake-up call from Craig and got myself into gear and it didn’t take me long to get back to my fitness."

Hughes, 24, said he had been forced by Drinkwater, 21, to lift his game.

"Drinky was training the house down. It's just so unfortunate for him to get an injury so severe like that," Hughes said.

"Just to see how good Drinky was going [through the pre-season] was sort of another wake-up call … that motivated me that I needed to step up a bit."

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