If not for Cooper Cronk, James Maloney might still be plying his trade in Melbourne.
On the eve of their latest encounter, a grand final rematch no less, it is appropriate to revisit the time Maloney played with, rather than against, Cronk.
It was 2009, a season in which Maloney made his NRL debut and was later the 19th man for the Storm in the grand final win against Parramatta. He was restricted to just four NRL appearances after Brett Finch switched sides mid-season.
“I was behind those guys and needed a regular opportunity in first grade,” Maloney recalled.
“At that point I hadn’t played grade, they were never going to pick me over an established bloke like Cooper Cronk.
“That’s how it came about. I’ve got no regrets about it. I’ve been at a lot of clubs and had success.
“I learned quite a bit down there. We’re different styles of players, I don’t think our games are that similar. I definitely learned a lot of things about footy in my time down there.”
Cronk is preparing for his own exit from the Storm. In news that will have every other off-contract playmaker on high alert, the Queensland and Australian No.7 is coming to Sydney, potentially to play on.
“The attraction for a side with him is what you’re going to get – he will organise your side and run it,” Maloney said.
“It will be interesting to see a guy go into a different set up having been there for so long, whether he transitions smoothly.
“He runs that Melbourne side with Cameron Smith and I’m not sure how much longer Cameron and Billy [Slater] have got in them. Life after those three was always going to be a tough thing but they’ve known that was coming.
“No doubt they have something in the pipeline.”
Cronk has had an effect, albeit less direct, on Cronulla halfback Chad Townsend as well.
“He’s someone that I’ve followed closely since I was probably 18 to 20 years old,” Townsend said.
“I see a lot of similarities in his game and my game and I’ve tried to copy a lot of the stuff he’s done to be honest. He’s a great communicator and a great organiser. He’s got a great kicking game and they’re all aspects in my game that I’ve tried to copy him.
“He’s someone who I’ve definitely followed in my career.”
The Sharks believe the unbeaten Storm side they face on Sunday is superior to the one they beat to claim their maiden title.
“The grand final rematch is exciting because it adds a build up to the game, but Melbourne won’t be thinking if they beat us on the weekend that it would make up for losing the grand final,” Maloney said.
“For both sides it’s another round game. It might have a bit more in it, who knows, but in terms of Cooper, he’s too experienced to let negotiations or whatever is going on affect him. He will turn up and do what he needs to do for the side.”