Melbourne Storm great Michael Crocker, Craig Bellamy, Cameron Smith comment on stripped premierships

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A defiant Michael Crocker says he’s a 2007 NRL premiership-winner and has hit those who back the stripping of Melbourne Storm’s titles with a swift rebuttal.

The controversy surrounding Melbourne’s 2007 and 2009 titles, which the NRL discarded after finding the club guilty of rorting the salary cap, roared back to life when former Storm captain Cameron Smith refused to back down at a special lunch last month, declaring “they’re still premierships to me”.

While Crocker was with the South Sydney Rabbitohs by the time of Melbourne’s 2009 premiership, the former Queensland Maroons enforcer was a member of the Storm’s victorious 2007 team after joining the club the season before.

Crocker said “I absolutely think we won it” and suggested the critics should “do some research”.

“I think if you look at the premiership-winners over the last 30 or 40 years, I dare say there would be a few teams over the cap in that period,” Crocker told Wide World of Sports.

“If someone wants to go back and do some research about what was happening back then, feel free.

“But I don’t think anyone should be ripping into anyone.”

Melbourne were estimated to have breached the salary cap by $1.7 million over five years and, as a result, they were fined $500,000, were forced to return $1.1 million and had two titles and three minor premierships stripped. The Storm were also forced to play for no competition points in the 2010 season, consigning them to the wooden spoon.

The NRL’s crushing punishment was dealt out under the reign of then-chief executive David Gallop.

Among the many arguments Crocker has in favour of Melbourne is the youthfulness of the team that lifted the Provan-Summons trophy.

The Storm’s 17 had played an average of only 88 first-grade games and had an average age of just 24. Among the team were an 18-year-old Israel Folau in the centres, as well as a 20-year-old Greg Inglis at five-eighth.

“I absolutely think we won it that year. We did win it that year,” Crocker said.

“It was a young squad that (coach) Craig (Bellamy) built up. I was the only representative player recruited there. We worked hard, we know that we did … It’s unfortunate the way it panned out, but in all of the players’ eyes it was a premiership we won.”

Just six members of Melbourne’s 2007 and 2009 grand final teams lay claim to a premiership officially recognised by the NRL.

Crocker won a title with the Roosters in 2002, Cooper Cronk tasted glory with the Storm in 2012 and 2017, as well as with the Tricolours in 2018 and 2019, and Cameron Smith (2012, 2017, 2020) and Billy Slater (2012, 2017) also reached the pinnacle.

Rounding out the list is Inglis, who won a title with the Rabbitohs in 2014, 2010 Dragons premiership-winner Jeremy Smith, and Will Chambers, who was a member of the Storm’s 2017 grand final team.

While Crocker says he’s no longer spooked by the darkest chapter in Storm history, he worries that it still grinds away at Bellamy and other key Storm figures.

“For the guys that built the club and Craig, the hard work he put in to get the team ready, I think it’s really important for them to not think about it,” Crocker said.

“Craig, that was his first one and he and the guys around him, Frank Ponnisi and the board members, these guys that built the club, they put a lot of hard work into putting that squad together to get them to the point for us to win a premiership.

“We had a lot of young kids and they built those kids from young footy players into superstars.

“So I think for them it’s really important, in my mind, that it doesn’t matter.”

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