Cooper Cronk lifts lid on awkward NRL situation with Mitchell Pearce after seven years

Cronk's signing with the Roosters in 2017 spelled bad news for his fellow halfback.

Cooper Cronk has opened up about his move to the Roosters after the 2017 NRL season and the awkward Mitchell Pearce situation that unfolded as a result. Cronk was tipped by many to announce his retirement after helping the Melbourne Storm triumph in the 2017 grand final against the North Queensland Cowboys.

But the legendary halfback was lured to the Roosters for the following season in a move that proved to be a masterstroke. Part of the reason for Cronk's move was based around his wife Tara Rushton's media career in Sydney. But he ended up leading the Tri Colours to consecutive premierships in his only two seasons with the Chooks. Cronk's signing in 2017 spelled the end of Pearce's career at the Roosters though, with the veteran No.7 ultimately leaving for Newcastle.

Pictured left to right, Cooper Cronk and wife Tara, alongside Mitchell Pearce.
Cooper Cronk's move from Melbourne to the Roosters spelled the end of Mitchell Pearce's career at the NRL club. Pic: Getty

Cooper Cronk recalls 'difficult' Mitchell Pearce dilemma

The situation was somewhat cruel on Pearce considering he'd led the Roosters to a grand final triumph over Manly just four years earlier. Both Cronk and Mitchell appeared on the Matty Johns Podcast this week to speak about the infamous saga, with the former revealing one of his first moves after signing was to phone Pearce and his Roosters teammates to discuss the "difficult" situation.

“I remember the first thing I did, I spoke to Pearcey on the phone," Cronk recalled. "I also spoke to Jared (Waerea-Hargreaves, Aubo (Mitch Aubusson), (Jake) Friend, (Luke) Keary, I spoke to everyone. It had to be relationship based as opposed to a business decision... it was difficult."


Cronk said what made it even harder was the fact he didn't enjoy immediate success with the Roosters, who last mid-table early on in the 2018 season after a 4-4 start to the year. The Maroons and Kangaroos great ultimately helped turn things around at the Roosters in impressive fashion, but said success was down to his chemistry with teammates, rather than trying to compare himself to what Pearce had done before him.

“The other thing too, looking back on it, there was a little bit of success at the back end but on Anzac Day in that first year we got pumped and I think we were 4-4. So it wasn’t all positive to start with. I just remember it had to be relationship-based, like (Pearce is) an elite halfback, I wasn’t going to score any more tries or set any more up than he’d already done in the jersey prior, so it had to be relationship based and it took a bit of time.

“But it was difficult and a tough decision because emotionally there were some relationships I had to build at the Roosters because he was a good friend of all of them and then from a football perspective. I’d spent 14 years combining with my back-rower and my fullback Slater and trying to attack edges, that’s where I played most of my footy.

“I get to the Roosters and you’ve got Keary and Tedesco who move sideways across the field quicker than anyone in the game, the first two months was clunky as, I had to change a lot and became a little bit more like Adam Reynolds, creating space and things come from there. Emotionally and football wise it was a huge challenge.”

Seen here, Cooper Cronk after winning one of his two NRL premierships with the Roosters.
Cooper Cronk won back-to-back premierships in his only two seasons with the Roosters in the NRL. Pic: Getty

Mitchell Pearce's classy response to Cooper Cronk situation

Pearce was understandably devastated at being pushed out of the Roosters at the time, with the No.7 leaving for Newcastle where he spent four seasons, before finishing his career in the English Super League with the Catalans Dragons. Speaking about the awkward Cronk situation that pushed Pearce out of the Roosters, the premiership-winning half praised his rival No.7 and said the decision was more than justified.

“We finished the season and it was in the papers and came up (that the Roosters were signing Cronk),” Pearce revealed. “But look I got replaced by a much better halfback and a winner and I can admit that. It was hard to say that at the time. They went on to win two competitions and I’d fallen short so I totally understand the situation (now).”