I heard Cooper Cronk’s appearance in the 2018 NRL Grand Final (despite breaking a scapula only one week earlier) described as disgraceful… and as a piece of alpha male stupidity. More generous critics suggested that he should have prioritized his health above what was just a football match. The most intelligent of Cronk’s critics made the point that, of course Cronk would choose to play (footballers always choose to play… especially when the game is a Grand Final), so the decision should have been taken out of his hands by his club.
Unfair assumptions about the bloke
I am not sure whether he should have played or not. If it had been me, there is no way I would have run onto the pitch with a broken shoulder bone! Even so, I suspect Cronk’s critics have made unfair assumptions about the bloke and how he went about making the decision to play. So, in defence of the Cronk, I’m going to have a crack at guessing what went on in his mind (and in the minds of his coach and medical team) leading up to the big game.
These are the questions that might have been milling around in the minds of the Cooper Cronk brains trust.
1. How likely is Cooper to get more seriously hurt if we devise, rehearse and practice strategies to cover for him so that he can minimise his involvement in full-contact action?
2. Cooper is one of the most intelligent and experienced players in our game but is he smart, experienced and skilful enough to be able to avoid scenarios on the pitch that might put him at great risk?
3. If he were to take the field when unable to participate in full-contact action are his general organizing skills a greater good than having a fit thirteenth player on the pitch?
4. If Cooper were to receive a game ending heavy knock, what are the odds that the consequences could be career-ending, life-long-injury causing or even life-threatening?
One thing is certain about Cronk. He is not a brainless, boof-headed, alpha male. Cronk changed clubs at the end of last season primarily because his life partner had an opportunity to progress her career in another city. He is also a bloke who, for personal reasons, gave up playing representative football years before the selectors would have considered dropping him. It is general knowledge, in the sporting world, that Cronk is a thoughtful bloke who is anything but footy obsessed. He tends to make what seem to be rational, balanced and intelligent life decisions.
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Last chance to achieve for his employer
Cronk was purchased by the Eastern Suburbs club in the hope that he would help them to win an NRL premiership. In his mid-thirties, Cronk may well be able to assist Easts next year (and the year after), but he may not. This might have been one of his last chances to achieve for his employer what he was paid to do. Cronk is not a young player who was putting his potentially huge playing future at risk. He has already experienced a stellar career.
I still do not know whether Cronk and the Easts brains-trust made the right decision. The fact that Easts won, and Cronk did not get (badly) hurt may be more good luck than good decision-making. But even if they did get it wrong I doubt if the decision was based on blind commitment to the need to win and certainly had nothing to do with Cooper wanting to demonstrate his testosterone-charged bravery. Right or wrong I suspect that decision was made in a calculated manner giving regard to plans in place, potential game scenarios and possible outcomes. I reckon it was an exercise in risk-analysis and I suspect that Cooper Cronk, his coach and his doctors would not have had it any other way.