RUGBY LEAGUE STAR COOPER CRONK WAS EXPECTED TO STAY ON THE FIELD FOR YEARS TO COME. BUT HE LISTENED TO HIS HEART, AND IT IS ABOUT TO LEAD HIM TO A VERY DIFFERENT PLACE
Why Cooper Cronk chose love over rugby league.
In the world of footy, men are men. Women? They are wives, mothers, nurses, cooks, therapists and cheerleaders – but rarely equal partners. Off the field, what Cooper Cronk did would barely have raised an eyebrow. To everybody else, it was a show-stopping move.
That’s because Cronk, 33, gave up his job – and it’s not just any job – for love. Cronk is rugby league royalty in Melbourne, a two-time winner of the Dally M Medal (awarded yearly to the best and fairest player in the NRL) who has played for Melbourne Storm since 2004. He was, by all accounts, expected to finish his career wearing their gold, purple, navy and white uniform – just not nearly this soon.
But when he met Fox Sports presenter Tara Rushton, suddenly all of the glory he regularly achieved on the field didn’t quite matter so much anymore. What did matter was being in the same city as the woman he had fallen in love with. What took precedence was her life, her feelings, and her career.
Cronk shocked the NRL in April, announcing that he would quit the team and head north to Sydney. Later this year he will finish out his contract with the team and pack his bags. He has not yet made an announcement – let alone a decision – on playing for a new team.
Nor is he in any seeming rush to do so. “It is a long year of NRL and hopefully of representative footy yet to be had,” he reckons. “Once I get through that, I can contemplate the next state. My longterm goal is to continue to play rugby league at the highest level as long as my body is in good shape and my form warrants selection. But at this very moment? No, I am not yet sure I will continue to play beyond 2017… but if I do, it will be in Sydney.”
CRONK IS CLEARLY a man in love. While committed to the current season, his personal focus stays very much homed in on Rushton. The pair, who were first rumoured to be a couple in June 2015, spend whatever free time they have together, whether in Melbourne, Sydney or his hometown of Brisbane.
It was during last year’s Christmas and New Year holidays that Cronk decided to propose. The pair shared their “extra special” news in January, with Rushton later seen in social media snaps sporting a large sparkling diamond engagement ring. But that’s about all you will get from them when it comes to details. They prefer to stay private, and are loath to share much about how it all played out.
“A gentleman never tells,” teases Cronk, who will only reveal, “it was a very special day, one we will remember forever.” They have yet to start planning their wedding, but that is also expected to be low-key – much like his prediction for the day. “I’m not sure where or when we will get married, but as long as our nearest and dearest are there, I’m sure it will be a memorable day for everyone,” he says.
For now, though, Cronk remains focused on the game. He took time out from a gruelling training schedule to shoot exclusively for Stellar, stepping far outside his comfort zone to suit up and channel a few of his idols. He describes his personal style as casual and relaxed, and admits that he is not convinced of his ability to model. “I don’t mind it, but I need all the help I can get!” he says. “I appreciate good style and nice clothes – but 100 per cent prefer to be on the football field.”
Asked for his style influences, Cronk says, “David Beckham is the first name that comes to mind.” He then shoots a cheeky smile and adds, “Maybe George Clooney in a few years’ time. I actually like what [American basketballer] Lebron James is wearing these days. I would love to turn up to one of our games in whatever dress we would like as opposed to team issue.”
``I´ve got so much to look forward to, no matter what happens´´
Outside of sport, Cronk’s biggest interest is obviously Rushton. “Most of my spare time is spent interstate seeing Tara,” he admits. “[But] I don’t mind catching a live music gig with my mates from time to time.” And when they’re not doing that? His answer is peak Melbourne. “Searching for the best cafes and coffee places in and around Richmond!”
CRONK IS AN anomaly amid the rough and tumble rugby league. You won’t find him in pubs or clubs – he is the keeper of a squeaky-clean image, the kind of big-name player least likely to end up caught in a headline-grabbing scandal of his own making. He is loyal, declaring that he would happily return to coach Melbourne Storm players in the future. He is also eloquent and good-looking, two attributes that will serve him well if he decides to go into sports broadcasting full-time like his fiancée. (He already does some work with Fox Sports.)
Cronk also cites business school as a potential next step. He is always planning ahead – he plays sport, after all; if a player does not end a career on their own accord, a fateful injury just might do it for them. “There’s no doubt professional athletes have to have tunnel vision – to a point – to achieve their goals,” he says. “But we also need to be aware that the dream doesn’t last forever. Surrounding yourself with good people and putting in a plan is vital for when that time comes.”
Still, any talk of retirement – let alone the parlour game around which Sydney team he might ultimately choose to play for – is not something he is willing to entertain. “Next year honestly doesn’t play on my mind at all,” he says confidently. “I have been blessed to have the career I’ve had. Sometimes we get lost chasing what we don’t have – as opposed to being grateful for what we do.”
With State of Origin now finished, Cronk will focus on finishing out his season with the Storm and, in October, playing for Australia in the Rugby League World Cup. He may be making a life-changing move in the name of love, but he is clear about the fact he will see through his professional responsibilities for the exact same reason.
“I’ve got so much to look forward to,” Cronk says. “And no matter what happens next year, my commitment and dedication to my teammates, and all those teams, will never waver.”
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COOPER WEARS Country Road knit and pants, countryroad.com.au; R.M. Williams boots, rmwilliams.com.au GROOMING Zoe Karlis SHOT ON LOCATION at Art Series Hotel – The Cullen, Prahran, Melbourne
GAME OF LIFE (clockwise from left) Cooper Cronk will relocate to Sydney month; with future wife Tara Rushton at last year’s Dally M Awards.