Melbourne enforcer Michael Crocker departs the Storm after Sunday’s NRL grand final believing the club has made him a better person as well as a better rugby league player.
Tagged as a partyboy and dogged by off-field controversy when he arrived in Melbourne in late 2005, Crocker heads for English club Hull having earned Test selection to go with Queensland State of Origin honours – and with a reputation as a solid citizen.
Crocker credits the positive changes in his lifestyle to Storm coach Craig Bellamy, whom he says provided not only on-field guidance but the sort of off-field leadership he needed at the time.
At the time, Bellamy went out on a limb to sign Crocker.
He ignored the advice of at least one high-profile player who told the Storm coach it would be a bad move to sign the backrower, who had injury problems, regular run-ins with the judiciary and a recent charge of affray following a pub brawl on his rap sheet.
“That was all my choice the way I lived my life in Sydney. It can be a bit of a party lifestyle up there and I enjoyed that at the time,” Crocker said of his time at the Sydney Roosters.
“But there’s a time in your life you’ve got to start making decisions on what’s right and wrong.
“Luckily down here, I started making some right ones.
“Craig’s leadership and the culture down here really helped me become more relaxed and know what I had to do both football-wise and off the field.”
While Melbourne’s club culture may have helped Crocker, the 28-year-old has also brought a winning culture to the Storm.
Crocker has only tasted defeat with the Storm twice in his 39 matches with the club – 33 of those wins consecutive before Melbourne’s shock loss to the New Zealand Warriors in July.
He is also about to play in his fifth grand final.
Crocker played in the Roosters’ 2002, 2003 and 2004 premiership deciders, missed the Storm’s 2006 defeat, but was pivotal in Melbourne’s triumph last year.
His tooth-rattling hit on Manly’s Brett Stewart turned last year’s grand final – Crocker bobbing up with a try minutes later after Stewart’s exit to give the Storm an advantage they never relinquished.
Crocker has won a premiership each with the Roosters and the Storm, but leaves no doubt which club he holds dearest.
“Football-wise Melbourne is home to me.
“I’ve learned a lot and I’ll miss the club and a group of players I call my brothers.
“To win a premiership with my brothers before leaving, it’d be really nice.”