NRL legend Cooper Cronk has taken aim at veteran journalist Phil 'Buzz' Rothfield in a heated on-air exchange about his dual coaching roles with former clubs the Sydney Roosters and Melbourne Storm.
A photo of Cronk at Storm training last week sparked controversy, considering he is employed by the Roosters in a coaching capacity.
SETTING IT STRAIGHT: Storm reveal truth about Cooper Cronk photo
DEVASTATING: Munster's family tragedy on eve of NRL season
The Melbourne Storm tweeted photos of retired greats Cronk and Billy Slater at a training session, imparting their wisdom on the club's current crop of players.
But while Cronk is a Melbourne Storm club legend, he finished his career at the Roosters and is currently employed by the Sydney club as an assistant coach.
The headline for a story Rothfield wrote for the Daily Telegraph labelled Cronk a "double agent" and the former halfback had a chance to set the record straight on Fox Sports' NRL 360 when he went head-to-head with the journalist in a heated on-air exchange.
“Last Thursday I was sent photos from Melbourne Storm’s training session, with a caption on the photo saying ‘Cooper and Billy running the session’", Rothfield said.
"I thought this is a bit unusual, I didn’t know anything about this, I knew you had the gig at the Roosters."
The journalist said he made several enquiries to representatives from both clubs, before claiming Roosters officials had no idea about his involvement with the Storm.
“I’m not questioning your integrity at all but I’m wondering how you can juggle both. That’s where it became a story," Rothfield added.
A clearly miffed Cronk - who said he'd been bombarded with calls since the Storm training photo emerged - bristled at Rothfield's for questioning his integrity.
“You think it’s a conflict of interest? I get that, that’s your personal views, that’s your thoughts. But in no way, shape, or form should you cast that on me,” Cronk said.
“I’m a completely different person to you Buzz, so what you think is impossible I think is possible. We are completely different people, you don’t know me and I act in a different way that would say I absolutely respect the two clubs.
“There’s no way I would do the proverbial you-know-what in my own backyard considering I’ve spilt blood for both these clubs. My relationships with arguably the four most influential people in this game in Craig Bellamy, Frank Ponissi, Trent Robinson, and Nick Politis is long, it’s strong, and it will continue for a period of time.
“Did you read the press release today from Trent Robinson? He said from the get-go it was absolutely crystal clear and transparent that my role with the Melbourne Storm would be corporate weighted, with a little bit of individual coaching of the halves, and Trent Robinson signed off on that.
Storm media team 'overstepped the mark'
Cronk said the Storm apologised for the initial photo after the social media post said he and Slater were "running" the training session - a claim the former halfback said was simply not true.
“They knew they weren’t meant to do that, the new media department overstepped the mark," he added.
“There’s no way consultants run a session. The reason I went down to Melbourne was to be a part of their corporate event on that night, so I dovetailed the session where I had five minutes with Jahrome Hughes face-to-face, which is the second time in two years I’ve had face-to-face contact with the Storm halves.
“The other time was January 2020 when they were down in Geelong, again another corporate event where I dovetailed some face-to-face time in.
“To say I’m always involved is not right, because I’ve had two face-to-face sessions with Storm halves in two years, I’ve had less than 10 phone calls and Zoom chats. To say it’s structured influential is not true, it’s actually ad hoc, ad lib, very casual, and it’s because of the respect I have from both clubs they signed off on it, they allowed it, and they will continue because you saw the press releases today."
Cronk then explained exactly what his role was with the Roosters and Storm - who the former halfback won two premierships with at both clubs.
“Roosters is all-encompassing, I’m in there one day a week, up to two days. I’m canvassing conversations, I’m part of game plan, I’m doing analysis, I’m going through video, I’m hands-on work day to day, week to week, and hopefully help determine results.
“The Melbourne Storm job is heavily weighted corporate, and as I’ve said I’ve had less than 12 or 15 interactions, two face-to-face and less than 10 by Zoom, and all I do is individual coaching and mentoring for Jahrome Hughes and Cameron Munster.
“That’s not done face to face, it’s about everything you do when you catch the football, and movement and speed, and that part of it. I never talk strategy, I don’t know their plays, I’m not in the inner sanctum, and I’ve got no understanding of how they want to play against teams. I don’t have a say in their results or how they play on a weekend.
“Whereas the Roosters I’m well entrenched and I have a little bit of a say how they play on weekends.”
Click here to sign up to our newsletter for all the latest and breaking stories from Australia and around the world.