While it’s safe to say Cooper Cronk will do anything and everything in his power to be on deck for the Sydney Rooster’s Grand Final date with the Melbourne Storm this Sunday, the experienced playmaker remains long odds to take his spot in the side after suffering a ‘severe rotator cuff injury’ during his side’s narrow win over the South Sydney Rabbitohs.
With a pretty significant diagnosis and a week to turn things around and get to a point where he won’t be a liability on the paddock, it’s worth turning our thoughts to how the Roosters and coach Trent Robinson might approach their setup without Cronk.
1 Sean O’Sullivan
There are a handful of ways Trent Robinson can go with his team selection if Cooper Cronk is ruled out, but as things stand, Sean O’Sullivan is probably the most likely man to slip into the halves alongside five-eighth Luke Keary.
O’Sullivan is a crafty and dynamic young playmaker and has been part of the setup enough this season that he would be able to slot in and take some of the pressure away from Keary who will be asked to step up in a big way in the absence of a star like Cronk.
20-year-old O’Sullivan, who debuted for the Chooks back in Round 18 against the Gold Coast Titans and came through the grades out west with the Glenmore Park Brumbies.
Interestingly, O’Sullivan only played that lone game against the Titans but has been left unused on the bench three times since.
Having inked his future with the Brisbane Broncos, O’Sullivan will be bidding farewell to Bondi after Sunday’s game regardless of the result, but with things looking pretty dire for Cronk, he might be the best option to ensure he leaves with a premiership ring.
2 Ryan Matterson
While Sean O’Sullivan looms as the most natural ball-playing option to replace Cooper Cronk, Trent Robinson may opt to go for experience and veteran nous and shift Ryan Matterson into the halves alongside Luke Keary.
If Matterson was to make the move from bench utility to the halves, you’d expect Robinson to go all out and move Keary over into the number seven jersey to play halfback as the dominant ball-player while Matterson would sit in the five-eighth role and play a more run-orientated game.
What the Roosters lose in an extra attacking option, however, they make up for with Matterson’s resolute defensive output. Matterson played in the number six jersey a handful of time earlier this year alongside Cooper Cronk when Keary was out with injury, so he does have some experience.
3 Victor Radley
Although seemingly far less likely than Ryan Matterson as the option of jamming a player into the halves, Trent Robinson could throw a genuine curveball and shift the hard-working Victor Radley into five-eighth alongside Luke Keary.
Radley has been highly impressive so far in 2018, earning plenty of plaudits and generating some talk that he’s a future Origin caliber player, but a positional switch into the halves and everything that entails would be a hugely risky move in the biggest game of the season.
Capable of delivering a massive hit and churning his way through mountains of defensive work, Radley looms far more important in the engine room of the forwards than a make-shift half trying to cover the loss of the almost irreplaceable Cooper Cronk.
4 Mitchell Cornish
Another one coming from the ‘less than likely’ pile, Trent Robinson could change things up dramatically and drop a 25-year-old playmaker with just 20 NRL games under his belt in five seasons.
Mitchell Cornish joined the Roosters ahead of the 2017 season from junior club Canberra but has managed just five games for the Chooks since making the move to Bondi. Just one of Cornish’s five games in the tri-colours has come in 2018.
With no Luke Keary available, Cornish started the first game of the season alongside Cronk as the Roosters suffered a shock 10-8 loss to the Wests Tigers to start their campaign and has not been sighted at the top level since.
It would be the ultimate show of faith in a talented but erratic half yet to establish himself in the top flight with any real consistency, but would Trent Robinson make the call to throw Mitch Cornish into the action? It’s not likely, but it is an option.
Who do you think will partner Luke Keary in the halves if Cooper Cronk is unavailable this Sunday? Let us know in the comments below.
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