'He made me a better coach': Bellamy on the Cronk effect

"The game should be proud of what Cooper Cronk has done. He is one of the game's greatest ambassadors – never done anything to hurt our game."

That's the opinion of the man who coached Cooper Cronk for 14 of his 16 NRL seasons, Craig Bellamy.

Cronk rang Bellamy on the eve of announcing that 2019 would be his last.

"Thank goodness he's still got a little bit to go, because Cooper will want to go out on a high note – that's just the way he is. He'll do everything he can to help the Roosters finish as high as they can," Bellamy told NRL.com.

Bellamy is unashamedly a Cooper Cronk fan, as he is for Cameron Smith and Billy Slater.

"I'm in awe of how good Cooper got in the skills and the know-how of a halfback… an education he didn't have until his early 20s," Bellamy said.

"I still think for me, the best part of his game is how he manages a game. He can pick the right thing to do in a situation.

"When Cameron was taking the kicks at goal, it was Cooper in the player huddle telling the team 'This is what we need to do next'. He could read things better than anyone."

Cronk didn't start as the Storm No.7 – his debut in round 9 of 2004 against the Sharks was off the interchange in jersey No.18.

He played 10 games off the bench before he started at halfback in round 26 that year. But Cronk played 22 games in his first two NRL seasons off the bench. When Matt Orford left Melbourne at the end of the 2005 season, Cronk started at No.7 in 2006 and never looked back.

"The amount of hard work he had to get through as a 22-year-old to play halfback at the highest level is enormous," Bellamy said.

"Most high-performing halfbacks, or 99 per cent of them who go on to play rep footy, have been halfbacks all their lives, or since they've been 13 or 14. But Cooper wasn't a halfback until he was 22.

"So to reach the heights that he did, just shows what a hard worker he really is. He was easy to coach in that way.

"But what I really like – and some coaches may not – is the way Cooper questioned things. If he felt like he had an idea, or was just being inquisitive, he wasn't afraid to ask 'Why are we doing this, or why don't we try that?'

"He was never backwards in coming forwards which I really admired. He is a smart person and a smart footballer.

"I learned a lot off him without a doubt. He made me a better coach. And being involved with him for 15 years or so made me a better person."

Cronk recently overtook Darren Lockyer (355) for most NRL games, with his former teammate Cameron Smith out in front on 394.

"When Cooper rang me I said to him it was amazing that I've been so involved with him and Cameron and they sit one and two on top of the most games played in the NRL," Bellamy said.

"I know he's a good friend of mine and I've coached Cooper, but I've been following this game for 55 years and I had heroes as a kid like others do now.

"Mine were Billy Smith and Graeme Langlands as I was a St George supporter.

"But my heroes never came anywhere near the amount of games Cooper has played, and with all due respect, I don't think they could have achieved the quality in their performances that Cooper has achieved consistently over the past 15 years.

"It's just amazing to me that I used to idolise those guys in my youth and now I've been working with a couple of players that have gone past them in terms of the quality of what they've done, and for so long."

Bellamy can't remember ever having an argument with Cronk, although there were robust opinions received and given.

"Cooper was always thinking up different ways of doings things. And it was never about him – it was always about making the team better. He was a very selfless player.

"I never had an argument with him but over the course of 15 years we definitely had a couple of intense discussions.

"We did disagree on a few things but we never had the silent treatment between us. I quite enjoyed his opinions and input. It was only once or twice I might have said 'I'm the coach and this is how we're going'.

"And I can't remember if I was right... most times I'm sure Cooper proved me wrong."