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Flanagan to work from Cronk red, white and blueprint

Cooper Cronk is a nightmarishly difficult act to follow but Roosters recruit Kyle Flanagan reckons he's up to the challenge.

And statistics from last season suggest that Flanagan won't have to overplay his hand to successfully fill Cronk's boots.

Of course, there were immeasurable elements to Cronk's game, with his trademarks being outstanding leadership, organisation and effort.

The four-time premiership winner's ability to perfectly execute a plan and consistently choose the right option was almost unmatched.

Working towards one day being able to replicate those traits on a consistent basis will be 21-year-old Flanagan's greatest task as the Tricolours' new halfback.

In 2019, Cronk guided the team around the park, kicked and tackled well, and largely left the brilliance to five-eighth Luke Keary.

With so many match-winners in the Roosters side - even despite the loss of Latrell Mitchell - the self-assured Flanagan is backing himself to do the same.

The Keary factor

In 23 games last year (including the finals series), Cronk was credited with just 10 try assists. Keary, who played one less match, posted 22.

Only Parramatta playmaker Mitch Moses (25) had more than Keary, though he made 26 appearances.

There was a similar gap between Cronk and Keary in line-break assists, the duo recording eight and 20 respectively.

Cronk did, however, score four tries to Keary's two.

The ex-Storm general often created space by digging into the defence before passing, with Keary drifting out the back and put the finishing touches on backline movements.

Luke Keary after the 2019 grand final.
Luke Keary after the 2019 grand final. ©Robb Cox/NRL Photos

Assuming Keary maintains such dominance, he'll take creative pressure off Flanagan and let him focus on steering the ship.

In his eight games for Cronulla last year, Flanagan managed five try assists, two line-break assists and a try.

First cab off the rank

Cronk caught the ball at first receiver in 84.5 percent of his receipts in 2019 compared to Keary's 63.2 percent.

Flanagan was first receiver in 79.6 per cent of his touches and the Aquinas Colts junior has indicated he wants to keep playing "on the ball".

"Obviously it's going to be a bit of a challenge for myself but hopefully that brings out the best in me. I can't wait for that opportunity to play hopefully in round one," Flanagan said in December

Coming into a back-to-back premiership team and having to demand the Steeden and bark orders won't faze him.

"I sort of love that, telling the big boys what to do. But early on in the first couple of rounds, I'll just be building my game."

Flanagan has the edge over Cronk in the running metres stakes, with the rising star averaging 53.2m per starting berth compared to Cronk's 40.6m.

In fact, Cronk was barely tackled last year, so Flanagan being willing to test the defence himself could give opponents more to think about.

Five key match-ups of the Roosters' 2020 draw

Defence

For all his guile and composure with the ball, Cronk's defence was underrated. 

His 86 per cent tackle efficiency was the second-best among regular halfbacks in last year's competition behind only Daly Cherry-Evans (89 percent).

Flanagan can expect a barrage of traffic coming his way on the right edge but he's already shown himself to be a capable defender, boasting an 83.4 per cent tackle efficiency rate in 2019.

Kicking

Cronk did the majority of the clearing kicks for the Roosters last year, averaging 308.9 metres per match.

Keary averaged 238 metres per game, and in the seven matches he started, Flanagan averaged 193.4 kicking metres.

Flanagan proved more consistent at forcing line dropouts, however, collecting five for an average of 0.6 per game.

With nine in 23 appearances, Cronk averaged 0.3 per game.

Kyle Flanagan training with the Roosters.
Kyle Flanagan training with the Roosters. ©roosters.com.au

Boom backline

As well as having Keary weaving his magic, an elite backline means Flanagan only needs to get clean ball to the likes of James Tedesco, Joey Manu, Brett Morris and Daniel Tupou to create chances.

Making room for the outside men by going to the line before passing - frequently copping a whack in the process - was something Cronk did expertly.

Tedesco led the league for tackle breaks in 2019 and Manu and Tupou also ranked inside the top 50.

Tedesco also bagged 19 tries, with Tupou (15) and Manu (8) not far behind.

But if Flanagan ever needs advice, Cronk won't be far away given his appointment as the club's halves coach. 

"We've spoken over the phone plenty of times. We've caught up for brekky and done some one-on-one sessions," Flanagan said earlier in the pre-season.

"We've been catching up once a week doing some halfback sort of play. That's going to be massive for me going forward, for sure.

"I don't think he's going to be a mentor for me; he's more of a mate which I sort of like I guess. He's going to be there for me during the year when times get tough."