Hardship revealed: timeline of Cronk’s miraculous recovery
MOMENTS after the Roosters claimed the 2018 premiership it was revealed how much Cooper Cronk endured to play. Days later, we're still learning the extent of his courage.
The siren had sounded and players embraced. With a microphone in his face, Roosters captain Boyd Cordner could not keep his astonishment a secret anymore.
"I think it will come out later but he actually broke his scapula. It was a big performance by Coops and that'll go down in history that's for sure," Cordner told Channel 9.
From there, one of the most courageous stories in rugby league history started to come into focus.
As soon as he left the field after winning the preliminary final, the games began. A plan was formed between coaching staff and players for the true nature of Cronk's injury to remain a secret to give the team's most important player a chance to play the decider.
"He would have had lots of so-called experts saying he couldn't do this or he couldn't do that so we thought we'd just give him a chance to play his own way, recover his own way, without the head noise. It worked out well," club physician Dr Ameer Ibrahim told Fox Sports News.
And so, media were told it was a rotator cuff injury, which has various grades. A broken scapular would indicate several weeks on the sidelines.
Dr Ibrahim along with club physiotherapists set about finding a way to make Cronk's grand finals hopes possible. They worked around the clock, sourcing every piece of information they could find to help stabilise the scapula, which was found to have a 15cm break through the bone.
They needed not to just numb the injury, but also give him the ability to use his arm.
"We scoured the net, we rang experts here and overseas and at the same time trying to keep it all quiet," Dr Ibrahim said, admitting he thought Cronk was no chance to play early in the week.
But with Cronk's positive attitude, they pursued every possibility.
"We looked at hyperbaric chambers, we looked at splints, we looked at different slings, strapping techniques to see if it would work; lasers, bone stimulators, whatever we could get our hands on. The sports science department was searching the internet far and wide and it was just a question of trying to get the pain down and improve function."
Eventually they found a radiologist in Castle Hill who was able to use an ultrasound unit to find the location of the injury in order to get the most precise anaesthetic injection possible.
On Friday night, two days before the grand final, Cronk and Dr Ibrahim attended the surgery office late for a test injection, and the halfback was then put through his paces with a series of push-ups, passing and tackles.
He woke up in pain on Saturday morning and they realised a game-day injection would be risky - it might not work as effectively as the trial.
But they continued.
They even considered using a police escort to inject Cronk at a doctor's office and then get him to the game to get as much time as possible with the anaesthesia.
MULTIPLE GAME PLANS
Meanwhile, coach Trent Robinson was scheming.
Robinson named back-rower Mitchell Aubusson in the No.7 jersey in the lead-up to the game, with Cronk in No.23 on the reserves list.
Many believed the move to be simply a ruse given Aubusson had never started at halfback in his 263-game NRL career - he'd played only twice at five-eighth back in 2007, the first time in his debut match.
After the grand finalm Robinson gave an incredible insight into his dual game plans, detailing the confidence he had in his squad to execute the genius ruse.
Robinson said that if Cronk had not played, he would have started the ever-reliable Aubusson, with Luke Keary and James Tedesco charged with running the show. Centres Latrell Mitchell and Joseph Manu would have chimed in where needed.
"I was going to defend Mitchell Aubusson there," Robinson said.
"I thought the double bluff might be to put him in seven and him actually play seven.
"Isaac Liu was going to play right-edge back row, Mitchell Aubusson was going to play seven.
"Latrell Mitchell and Joseph Manu were going to drift a lot in attack, which they ended up doing tonight - we ended up sticking with the plan in parts. They were going to do a lot of receiver.
"The reason Victor Radley started was he's more of a ball player than most of the others, so he was going to do a lot of distributing which he did as well."
Once Sunday arrived, the decision was made. Cronk would take a risk on another injection, assured he was not risking further injury.
Dr Ibrahim said he lost sleep thinking the injection would not work and Cronk would run out for five minutes and concede to the pain.
The Castle Hill radiologist helped with the injection before the game and at half-time, using permanent marker to identify the exact spot to reduce wasted time. They then cut off his jersey to give Cronk every possible second, knowing they had only 15 minutes to inject and for the anaesthesia to kick in.
But he still felt it.
"He had about 90 per cent strength and I think the injection managed to take away about 80 per cent of the pain. He would have felt every tackle, there's no doubt about it," Dr Ibrahim said.
He played 78 minutes of the grand final epic against his former team, making nine tackles, including one on Storm behemoth Nelson Asofa-Solomona, and missing none.
He was used primarily as a decoy runner and had only 18 possessions, compared to 54 in the first week of the finals against Cronulla. But still, his direction on the field was essential.
Overcoming a mountain of pressure, a broken shoulder blade, pain, and the emotional toll of the week leading into the grand final, Cronk proved his mental and physical toughness was truly unmatched.