But Croft has looked a more comfortable member of the Storm this season leading their potent right edge as the club notched two wins from two games.
Surprisingly, Croft says the pair have never played against each other although he has closely observed how his opposite number has approached his NRL career.
“I’ve never played him in my life so it would be good to play against him this weekend,” Croft said on Tuesday.
“He is a really strong-minded player and I’ve definitely taken a few things out of his game that I can implement into my game.
“He just does it week in, week out and he’s a really consistent player so I’m looking forward to versing [playing] him this week.”
Last year Croft earned the starting half-back role after Cronk move to Sydney, but he spent the middle part of the season refining his game in the Queensland Cup before winning back the position for the finals.
When the Storm and Panthers faced off just before the finals, Croft was forced out due to a knee injury robbing him of a first clash with Cleary.
Croft still has plenty to improve on before joining Cleary in the Origin arena, but time is on his side and with the Storm he will have the perfect attack to showcase his talents.
There was too much heat on Croft last year as the Storm tried to move on without Cronk’s enormous influence on their attack and the half-back admits he is happier to be under the radar this season.
“It’s real nice to just have to worry about my football, playing my football and doing my job – I’m enjoying that,” Croft said.
In last Friday’s win over Canberra, Croft and the right edged set their winger Suliasi Vunivalu up for three tries in the first half-hour to lay the platform for a 22-10 win.
Croft’s centimetre-perfect grubber kick assisted in one of Vunivalu’s tries and the half-back said he was enjoying how that side of the field was coming together since his good mate centre Curtis Scott moved to the right side.
“It’s nice to call a play like that and have the boys get in on the back of it,” Croft said.
But Croft also knows that hot first half will earn plenty of attention from the Panthers ahead of Saturday’s game.
“It was just repetition and running the plays we want to run and the variations we want to run off the back of it,” Croft said.
“It’s really good that a few plays have come off early in the season, obviously now teams are going to change their defensive patterns to try to negate that.
“It’s up to us to reassess and go from there.”
The Storm play Penrith at Carrington Park, Bathurst on Saturday at 7.35pm.
Roy Ward is a Sports writer for The Age.