The Smith Myth: The real reason Cronk struggles outside of Melbourne

It's no secret Cooper Cronk has struggled at Bondi but don't blame Cameron Smith. It's got far more to do with one of Cronk's new Roosters teammates


Picture credit: Museumofinanity

2018 was supposed to be the year that Cronk forever cemented his legacy in the game. Already a dual premiership winner and two-time Dally M medalist, Cronk would move to the Sydney Roosters – the club his father grew up supporting – and lift the Provan-Summons trophy come October. 

Problem is, Cronk just hasn’t delivered.

Life without Cronk

Playing outside a Storm system which Cronk had known for the best part of two decades was always going to prove a challenge, but few predicted he would struggle as severely as he has. After all, a Roosters side with Cooper Cronk was supposed to be a shoe-in for the premiership – they only had to turn up to collect their premiership rings. 

Despite his poor start to the season, Cronk has avoided much of the criticism that his predecessor Mitchell Pearce would have endured. While the Roosters have slumped to a 4-4 record, the Storm have gone to new heights and since settling on Ryley Jacks as their number seven, the men in purple have outpointed their opponents 124-44. Turns out the Storm don’t miss Cronk nearly as much as he misses them. The only question is why?

The Smith Effect

Critics of Cronk have been quick to point out he no longer plays behind the most influential number nine in the modern game – Cameron Smith. Smith’s influence is undeniable and his presence along with that of Slater is a big part of the success that Cronk has experienced over his career at the Storm. You don’t earn a reputation as The Big Three for no reason. 

Without his former club captain, Cronk’s win rate at the Storm is a paltry 40%. When you include Smith in the side, that win rate shoots up to 72% and with Slater, the trio record their highest winning percentage of 73%. Put simply, you don’t want to back a side where Cronk doesn’t have a solid number nine around him. 

So if anyone is to blame for the Cronk form slump surely it is Roosters veteran Jake Friend? As the Chooks number nine and the man charged with providing quality ball to Cronk, Friend looms as the most likely culprit in this whole debacle. 

Friendless

Jake Friend has copped plenty of criticism for his side’s recent form slump. Deemed too slow and lacking creativity, many have pinned the Rooster’s woes on his poor service from dummy half. The only problem with that theory is that statistics show he may be more scapegoat than villain. 

Comparing Friend’s work rate over the opening eight rounds with Cameron Smith’s 2017 premiership-winning season, it’s difficult to split the two. Both are providing almost identical outputs, averaging over 30 tackles per game, producing the same number of try assists and Friend is actually outdoing Smith for tackle busts.  Based on stats alone, it can’t be Jake Friend who is hampering Cronk’s style of play. 

It turns out that Cronk’s slump isn’t so much the absence of Cameron Smith, but a new addition to the Roosters side. There’s been a subtle but important shift in the way Cronk (and the Roosters) are playing this year and it centres on one man. 

New year, new Cronk

Of Cronk’s seven try-assists for the year, all bar one have resulted from a kick. The Roosters score the bulk of their tries on the edges – 71% in fact. This comes as no real surprise. Cronk has always had a precision kicking game and offered plenty with the boot inside the opposition 20. What is of surprise is how little Cronk is running the ball this season. 

Averaging just 19 run metres per game in 2018, Cronk has more than halved his efforts from last year. He’s not injured, and he’s not suffering from a lack of quality ball distribution, so why has Cronk suddenly stopped running the ball?

The Tedesco Effect

The Roosters have adopted a subtle, but important variation in their attack this season and much of that has to do with the addition of former Tigers fullback, James Tedesco. When Michael Gordon wore the number 1 jersey, the Roosters relied heavily on a direct running game. Mitchell Pearce and Co. would look for holes around the ruck that Gordon could exploit via an inside ball or offload 

With Tedesco’s inclusion, the Bondi club have shifted the focus of their game play. Coach Trent Robinson has opted for a more expansive style this year. One which sees the halves sweep the ball out the back to a waiting James Tedesco. From there, it’s up to Tedesco to work his magic and create the space. The only problem is that Tedesco hasn’t really set the world alight and this style of play limits any opportunity for Cooper Cronk to take the line on himself. Not only does it place all the playmaking responsibility on Tedesco, it nullifies one of Cronk’s greatest attributes. 

That’s the issue with having a side stacked with big-money talent. Sometimes you don’t know who should run the show. For Cronk, playing outside the Melbourne system isn’t difficult because he doesn’t have Cameron Smith’s quality distribution. It’s difficult because, for the first time, he has to play the starring role. It’s time that Cronk took the reigns of this star-studded Chooks side and made it his own. Without doing that, he risks tarnishing his legacy as one of the great halves of the game. 

How would you rate Cronk’s 2018 season to date? Let us know in the poll below.

  1. POLL: What grade do you give Cooper Cronk for his performances this year?

    1. A+. He's looked the Roosters' best in a badly beaten side
    2. Pass. He's done just enough to avoid criticism for now
    3. Fail. It appears that money can't buy you a premiership
    504 votes
    Share Your Result

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Jarrod Calabria

If you 'couldn't be prouder of the boys' or are 'glad they gave 110%' then have you come to the right place!

As a Sydney-sider and Bunnies tragic, I explore the weird and wonderful world that is Rugby League with opinion pieces, in-depth analysis and commentary. I tackle the serious and light-hearted issues facing the game to keep you up to date and informed. As Gus Gould would say, "This bloke is a Genuine Rugby League Gazelle".

When I'm not watching rugby league, I love getting out to a live match of football, cricket and AFL.

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