Cooper Cronk led the way for the Roosters against the Sharks. Picture: AAP
Cooper Cronk led the way for the Roosters against the Sharks. Picture: AAP

Monday Buzz: Real stars stand up in finals

IT'S not always the most brilliant playmakers who win big NRL finals in September.

At this time of the year it's as much about mental and physical toughness.

We saw that over a weekend of high-intensity finals football.

The two best examples are the Sydney Roosters' Cooper Cronk and Penrith Panthers' Jimmy Maloney.

Ben Hunt,too. That he could bounce back from a terrible form slump against the Broncos was ­mental toughness again.

The other example, on the opposite side of the scale, is New Zealand Warriors halfback Shaun Johnson, who is a more naturally gifted playmaker than all of them.

A scintillating player on his day.

Yet when the going got tough at ANZ Stadium on Saturday evening, Johnson went missing and you hardly noticed he was out there.

(It's one of the reasons I left him out of my top 50 NRL players at the start of the season.)

Then you look at Maloney and understand why he has such a striking grand final record with premierships at the Roosters and Sharks.

 

Shaun Johnson went missing when the Warriors needed him. Picture: AAP
Shaun Johnson went missing when the Warriors needed him. Picture: AAP

 

The big hit he copped from Warriors hooker Issac Luke would have put a normal player on a stretcher. Game over, or at the very least a spell on the sidelines to recover.

Somehow he got back to his feet and steered the Panthers to victory.

Unbelievable toughness.

Across town at Allianz Stadium, Cronk was equally as brave and dominant.

This guy might not have the 'c' next to his name in the Big League program but there is no question about his leadership and durability on the football field.

It's a credit to Boyd Cordner and Jake Friend that their egos don't get in the way and they are happy for the former Storm halfback to run the show.

Cronk had to cope with as much physical punishment as Maloney. The Sharks' markers were in his face all night to try to nullify his kicking game.

 

Cooper Cronk led the way for the Roosters against the Sharks. Picture: AAP
Cooper Cronk led the way for the Roosters against the Sharks. Picture: AAP

 

Plus, he took all his possessions right to the defensive line before offloading.

In the end it was his wonderful game management that got the Roosters home. Not just with his field goal but the way he calmed down his teammates when the pressure was on.

It was a masterful exhibition which fully justified why Trent Robinson and Nick Politis wanted him in pre­ference to Mitchell Pearce last off-season.

Now back to Maloney.

When the Warriors led 10-2 early, the Panthers skipper got his side back into the game with a beautiful 40-20. From that moment, Penrith took control of the game.

 

James Maloney helped lead the Panthers to victory against the Warriors. Picture: AAP
James Maloney helped lead the Panthers to victory against the Warriors. Picture: AAP

 

About a month ago I interviewed former Panthers coach Anthony Griffin in the week he was sacked by Phil Gould. He started talking about his favourite player: "Jimmy's the brainiest footballer I've coached."

A huge wrap considering he had Darren Lockyer at the Broncos.

Next weekend Maloney is up against his old club Cronulla. He was under contract for 2018 but the Sharks offloaded him in a swap with Matt Moylan. It will be a fantastic one-on-one confrontation that will almost certainly determine the result.



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