The Sydney Roosters’ recruitment of former Melbourne Storm star Cooper Cronk was aimed in part at helping find that last little piece of clinical polish in big finals games, but NRL.com Stats can reveal there may be another hidden advantage in Cronk’s kicking game when compared to the man he is replacing.
Cronk and now-Newcastle Knights No.7 Mitchell Pearce are two of the NRL’s premier playmakers and both have dominated the Telstra Premiership for some time.
Statistically, those two – along with Johnathan Thurston and James Maloney – have been easily the best four halves in the NRL over the past five years when it comes to creating chances for their teammates.
While fans are quick to point out a disparity between the two star No.7’s respective efforts in the representative arena, at club level there is little separating them.
The cold, hard numbers suggest they provide remarkably similar attacking numbers; in the 2017 regular season Cronk produced 15 line break assists and 14 try assists compared to a slightly superior 18 and 14 for Pearce.
But while Pearce’s assists came almost exclusively via his running and passing game, Cronk can be expected to add another dimension to the Roosters’ attack with his short-kicking game.
NRL.com Stats reveal the number of “kick breaks” each has produced over the past one and five seasons respectively, and the difference is stark.
A kick break is effectively earned when a player’s kick helps a teammate get on the other side of the defensive line. So, any try (a bomb marked in the in-goal or attacking grubber dived on for a try, for example) results in a kick break. But so too does a cross-field kick that creates a line break but not a try.
Cronk had eight kick breaks in 2017 – second behind only Titan Ash Taylor (11) while Pearce had just two. In fairness to Pearce, given the above-mentioned similarity in their overall numbers, it hints that he is close to the most dangerous half in the game when it comes to creativity from running and passing.
However the disparity in kick assists is a trend that stretches back over several years, and over that period Cronk also has a healthy lead in overall assists.
In all matches over the past five seasons (including finals), Cronk has 42 kick breaks in 113 matches – the most of any player in the NRL.
That tally is more than double Pearce’s in a similar number of games (19 kick breaks in 108 games, with none at all in his nine finals matches). In that period Cronk has 85 line break assists and 96 try assists against 81 and 82 for Pearce.
What these numbers all tell us is that an already-dominant Roosters team could add a whole other dimension to their attack in 2018 if Cronk’s kicking game and one of the best supporting fullbacks in the competition in James Tedesco can hit their straps early.