“When he first started his career, rugby league wasn’t on anyone’s radar at all in Melbourne. Few knew about the club or the players. Through his hard work and what he gave to the place, rugby league is thriving in Victoria now. For the years that he gave our club, up until his last game with our club, he deserves a lot of credit.”
Smith refused to discuss the apparent fallout between the pair which happened when Cronk decided to sign with the Roosters after he left the Storm following their grand final win together in 2017.
Cronk told Fox Sports earlier this week said there would be “no hostility” if the pair caught up in the future.
“It’s important that we talk about his career and what he has achieved,” Smith said.
There has been plenty of talk about where Cronk belongs in the pantheon of great halfbacks.
Phil Gould reckons he’s a future Immortal. Andrew Johns earlier this week told 2SM: “As a halfback, I look at the ones that I aspired to: “Sterling, Stuart, Langer then Stacey Jones and the great Johnathan Thurston … I rate him a tiny bit below those players.”
Smith said Cronk’s record was as good as anyone’s.
“Look at his record: eight grand finals, five premierships, two Dally Ms,” he said. “That stacks up with anyone. His numbers stack up against everyone. When you talk about the great players of our game, he’s got to mentioned somewhere.”
Nobody will finish with better numbers than Smith, though.
With the rumours of him making a stunning comeback for Queensland now firmly put to bed, he is expected to be the first player to reach 400 NRL games in round 17 when Melbourne meets Cronulla at AAMI Park on July 13.
Yet he reaches another milestone this Sunday when the Storm meet the Bulldogs at Belmore: it will be his 500th first-class game having played 397 matches (including World Club Challenge) for the Storm, 42 for Queensland, 56 for Australia and four All-Stars games.
“No, I didn’t know that,” Smith laughed.
Andrew Webster is Chief Sports Writer of The Sydney Morning Herald.