Cronk not completely in the clear
In his typically meticulous way Queensland halfback Cooper Cronk concedes there remain a few more boxes to be ticked before he is given the all clear to play in Origin III next Wednesday night but says only a training mishap will stop him from taking the field.
Despite only six weeks having passed since Cronk broke his arm in the opening 10 minutes of Origin I, Queensland selectors had no hesitation in rushing him back for what is essentially a dead rubber with Manly halfback Daly Cherry-Evans reverting back to the bench.
Will Chambers will finally make his Origin debut on the right wing in place of the injured Brent Tate while Jacob Lillyman earns his first spot in the Maroons' run-on side with Matthew Scott also unavailable due to injury.
Corey Parker returns to the side at lock having recovered from a facial fracture with Broncos front-rower Josh McGuire the only new face as 18th man. Cowboys fullback Michael Morgan has been named 19th man and will join the squad following North Queensland's meeting with the Dragons on Saturday night.
Recognised as one of the most dedicated professionals in the NRL, Cronk has worked around the clock since the disappointment of Game One to give himself every chance in playing in the third and final game and says that commitment will continue right up until kick-off, where he will be awaiting a thorough examination from the Blues forwards.
"I wouldn't be here if that wasn't part of it. You expect it and I'll do everything possible this week to have my mind and body ready to combat the sport on Wednesday night," Cronk said from the Junior Maroons clinic at South Graceville Junior Rugby League in Brisbane.
"There's no hiding here, I'm not running away from the fact that there have been some challenges thrown in front of me physically. I've got 10 more days to remove those fears and I know what type of person I am; I'll do the work.
"I wouldn't be here if it wasn't right to go. Obviously you speak to the specialists and have all the right people in place but at the end of the day it's up to you to do all the work and I got the green light.
"There are a few more boxes to tick in terms of contact and things like that but unless there's a major incident I'll be playing on Wednesday.
"I was bitterly disappointed to come off early in Game One and after the conclusion of that game I said to myself that the goal was to get back for Game Three. I did everything in my power and capacity to do that and here I am with the help of other people."
Just last week Storm coach Craig Bellamy quashed any notion that Cronk was to be a shock inclusion in their clash with the Dragons on Monday night but the star No.7 was able to convince both Bellamy and team doctors that he is fit to play in Origin III.
Maroons coach Mal Meninga also insisted that Cronk would not have been selected to play in his 14th Origin encounter if there was sufficient risk of doing further damage.
"He wouldn't be playing if he wasn't right to go," Meninga told the assembled media. "Cooper's the ultimate professional, one of the best players in the game and he wouldn't be jeopardising his health or his position with the Storm by playing in the Origin game. He's fully fit.
"We were always hopeful to be honest, with regards to his availability for Game Three. We had to go to Sydney and try to wrest their victory away from them and be 1-all and have Cooper and a few of the other guys back. That didn't happen for us but it's good to have us back in the footy side."
The appearance of Cronk on the team bus on Tuesday morning was a welcome surprise to team-mates such as Justin Hodges who conceded that the Maroons were unable to recover after losing their chief playmaker in the opening exchanges of Game One.
"We didn't really know who was in the side until we jumped on the bus and saw 'Coops' and it's good to have him back," Hodges told NRL.com.
"We really missed him. When he went down in that first game I think that's where we lost that game. He's our main guy to steer us around the park and when you lose a guy like that in the first couple of minutes it really does throw your team out. It's really good to see him back."
Although he found it difficult to watch his team-mates battle on so gamely without him in Game Two to lose the Series in Sydney, Cronk said that his commitment to his state and its jersey drove him to be available for selection.
"I care about this team, I care about the jersey, I care about the people of Queensland and they've supported us through this whole Series so far and it's the least that I could do is do my job," Cronk said.
"It's an absolute privilege to wear the Maroons jersey each and every time so you do whatever it takes to have that opportunity.
"I was a little bit upset and disappointed but 20 minutes after [Game One] I said to myself that I'm definitely not going to be there for Game Two but Game Three was an option.
"I was determined to do everything possible to get ready and with the help and contribution of others I'm here and ready to go."