For the last 17 years, the sight of Cooper Cronk with the No.
7 jumper on his back, calling the shots is all Billy Slater has known.
Cronk will run out for his final game in a Melbourne jersey in Sunday’s grand final against North Queensland with a chance to depart the club a premiership hero.
The Australian and Queensland playmaker is still keeping his cards close to his chest when it comes to whether he will hang up the boots or join a Sydney club in 2018.
The possibility of Cronk lining up against him in a different jersey is one which Slater finds disconcerting and is having problems wrapping his head around.
The pair first came together as teenagers at Queensland Cup club North Brisbane before forming arguably the most formidable club combination of all time along with Cameron Smith.
“It’ll be tough. I’ve never played a game against Cooper,” Slater said when asked about possibly facing his good mate next year.
“I’ve trained against him a lot. It would be really weird playing against Cooper and seeing him in a different coloured jersey.
“But at the same time, that’s Cooper’s decision. He’s earned the right to do whatever he wants and take as much time as he needs to.
“He’s going up to Sydney for family reasons and we all understand and respect that. It’s just about appreciating what he’s done for this club and for us us individually as players.”
Sunday’s game will be an end of an era for the Storm – their “big three” is breaking up and after dominating the competition for the last decade, it’s unknown whether they can continue to be a premiership force.
Slater is likewise considering hanging up the boots and both he and Cronk were adamant the outcome of Sunday’s game would not have an affect on their decisions.
“It’s the last time I’ll be doing this but I’ve really put that out of the back of my mind away from everything,” Cronk said.
“I’m an emotional person and if I get emotional I don’t think I play too well.
“So I will be cold-hearted about it and go about it business-like and see how we end up.”