As much as Melbourne love Cooper Cronk his premature departure may actually end up as a positive for the Storm.
Cronk will end his decorated 14-year stint at the Storm in Sunday’s NRL grand final against North Queensland before moving to Sydney to be with his fiancee.
Melbourne chief executive Dave Donaghy said succession planning had been a focus since he took over in mid-2015, which meant handling the imminent loss of the “big three” – Cronk, skipper Cameron Smith and fullback Billy Slater – as well as plans for long-time coach Craig Bellamy.
Test halfback Cronk signed a two-year deal in 2016 but the final year was in his favour.
Slater is still to announce his playing future but given that Smith and Bellamy are also off-contract at the end of 2018, Cronk leaving early means the club won’t lose almost 1000 games playing experience, as well as Bellamy’s 16 years as coach, in one go.
“It caught us a bit by surprise that Coops was the first bloke to walk in the office this year and say he was going to Sydney but from a succession point of view it’s probably going to work out OK,” said Donaghy.
“The aim for us was that we’d ideally like to stagger it and it seems to be falling that way.”
The Storm boss felt that with the likes of talented youngsters halfback Brodie Croft, hooker Brandon Smith and fullback Jahrome Hughes all impressing with their opportunities in first grade this season, the club was well placed.
“It’s an end of an era and we heard it quite a bit, the talk of the Storm’s demise, but we knew two things – we knew we had to bring in the next generation and we’ve all had a bit of a taste of that,” said Donaghy.
“At the same time we didn’t want to have that leadership vacuum, or skills vacuum – something you saw in the Australian cricket team when players like (Glenn) McGrath, (Shane) Warne, (Adam) Gilchrist and (Steve) Waugh all went out around the same time.
“They went though a huge generational turnover really quickly.
“It’s a challenge we’ve been aware of and the guys have got on with making sure we bring in players who can one day take over.”
Donaghy said he believed Slater would play on in 2018 but if the champion fullback decided to bow out the money they were holding over for him would give them greater flexibility with their current list and in recruitment.
Regardless Donaghy predicted the Storm would be back challenging for the title in 2018 and he hoped to tie Bellamy to a contract extension to oversee it.
“The intention is that win or lose on Sunday we’ll be pushing to get back here the following year and every year after that,” he said.
“The premiership window has to be every year if you’re fair dinkum about it.”