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Cooper Cronk’s decision to play in the NRL grand final with a serious shoulder injury had the potential to be a Graeme-Langlands-white-boots-style disaster for Sydney Roosters.

Instead, the champion halfback’s courageous effort to take the field is destined to go down in the same vein as ‘broken-jaw hero’ John Sattler’s 1970 performance after helping inspire a dominant 21-6 upset of Melbourne Storm.

Cronk had few touches with or without the ball, but his influence was palpable despite playing with what was revealed post-match as a broken scapula. The hampered veteran marshalled the Tricolours troops superbly – in turn becoming the first player since Johnny Mayes in 1973-74 (Manly and Easts) to win grand finals with different clubs in consecutive seasons.

The Roosters were near-perfect, playing with precision and intensity to power out to a match-winning 18-0 halftime lead. The Storm were uncharacteristically poor and error-prone, outplayed in almost every facet and never looking likely to peg back the deficit.

With Cronk compromised, his halves partner Luke Keary – himself joining a select group of players to win titles with two clubs after celebrating with Souths in 2014 – stepped up spectacularly to claim Clive Churchill Medal honours.

But a rollicking forward-pack display, one of co-captain Jake Friend’s finest hands and an authoritative night from the Roosters’ back-five also contributed massively to one of the most complete team performances you could hope to see in a grand final.

Retiring Storm icon Billy Slater, a controversial suspension escapee in grand final week, was blotted out by the Roosters, joining an unfortunate select band of champions to exit the game with a runner-up medal.

After a promising early attacking foray down the Storm’s right side, the Roosters opened the scoring in the fourth minute via a Latrell Mitchell penalty goal.

The underdogs had the first try just three minutes later as Keary’s beautiful looping pass  put Daniel Tupou on the outside of Suliasi Vunivalu and in to score.

The Roosters’ rabid kick-chase and aggressive defence saw Josh Addo-Carr and Slater back-pedalling on multiple occasions, while the attacking onslaught continued in the 15th minute as Mitchell stood up opposite Will Chambers and dived in for a shock 12-0 scoreline.

Mitchell added another chapter to his 2018 obliteration of Chambers by driving him into touch near the Roosters’ line, provoking the frustrated Storm stalwart to hurl the footy at the player who has emphatically taken away his mantle as the game’s best centre.

Melbourne could not capitalise on a run of penalties and after a cold drop from Nelson Asofa-Solomona, Friend made a long break. Cameron Munster was binned for the last 10 minutes of the half for cynically holding the Roosters co-captain down in the tackle and Mitchell increased the lead by two points.

The Roosters put a nail in the defending champs’ coffin three minutes out from the break, taking advantage of the 12-man Storm to send Joseph Manu over the corner. Great awareness from Friend and slick hands from James Tedesco set up the try for the Hamilton-born centre.

With their worst 40 minutes of the season behind them, the Storm were left with the task of having to break the record of their 1999 predecessors – who ran down St George Illawarra after trailing 14-0 at the break – for the biggest grand final comeback in history to retain the trophy.

Little in the opening 10 minutes of the second stanza suggested a Melbourne rally was on the cards, while Munster was denied two tries in the space of three minutes – firstly by a Nelson Asofa-Solomona obstruction on Cronk, then by a freakish defensive play from Manu.

Keary, faultless for the first hour of the decider, offered the Storm a sniff with a mistimed pass that saw Addo-Carr streak 90 minutes for his side’s first points.

But the Roosters five-eighth all but sealed his Churchill Medal win and the Roosters’ premiership triumph with a 68th-minute field goal.

Munster, who had already become the first player since Terry Lamb in 1995 to be sin-binned in a grand final, created history by earning another 10-minute spell for kicking Manu.

Mitchell slotted a third penalty goal to finish off the scoring – and it was soon time to celebrate.

Keary was a deserving man of the match but Tedesco wasn’t far behind. Nor was Friend, who outplayed Cameron Smith, and Manu had a blinder on both sides of the ball.

Co-captain Boyd Cornder became just the second player to lead NSW to an Origin series win and a skipper a grand final triumph in the same season, after Canterbury legend Steve Mortimer in 1985.

Mitchell, Aubusson, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Victor Radley were other standouts – though there were no underperformers in the tri-coloured jersey.

Five players – Cordner, Friend, Aubusson, Warea-Hargreaves and Tupou – picked up their second premiership rings as Roosters, having featured in the club’s 2013 triumph.

Meanwhile, Trent Robinson joined Craig Bellamy, Wayne Bennett and Des Hasler as the only multiple premiership-winning coach of the NRL era.

The Roosters’ gamble to splash out on Cronk and Tedesco has paid enormous dividends; after patchy starts, both played hugely influential roles in a 14th title for the Bondi Junction outfit.


Sydney Roosters 21 (Daniel Tupou, Latrell Mitchell, Joseph Manu tries; Mitchell 4 goals; Keary field goal) defeated Melbourne Storm 6 (Josh Addo-Carr try; Cameron Smith goal) at ANZ Stadium, Sydney.

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