Bellamy wishes Cronk had sat out Origin
We all knew he was thinking it and Storm coach Craig Bellamy has finally said it – he wishes Cooper Cronk had opted out of Wednesday night's Origin III.
Cronk has not played any football since breaking his arm 10 minutes into Origin I six weeks ago.
But despite being underdone, the star halfback looks set to make his return on the Origin stage as the Maroons look to ward off the first NSW clean sweep in 14 years.
Bellamy will be understandably nervous and could not hide his honesty in the hours counting down to the clash.
“To be quite honest I would probably prefer Cooper sit this one out,” said Bellamy.
“But he is a very proud Queenslander and he sees that any opportunity he gets to play for Queensland is a very special one and one he wants to grab with both hands.
“We have never, ever stopped anyone from trying to play a rep game here before and we weren’t about to try and start with Cooper.”
Despite being named to start Origin III in his customary No.7, the 30-year-old has been left off the team sheet completely for the Storm’s meeting with the Bulldogs this Saturday night.
However, the coach is still hopeful to see Cronk wearing purple for the first time in almost two months.
“We don’t want to put any pressure [on Cronk] or anything, we just want to see how he pulls up,” said Bellamy.
“He hasn’t played for six weeks, so backing up after an Origin game four days after you haven’t played for six weeks is a pretty tough ask.
“Obviously he is a very special player and very special competitor but we will just see how he pulls up after tonight.”
If Cronk and his fellow members of the Big Three in Billy Slater and Cameron Smith all back up on Saturday night, it will be the first time the trio have played for Melbourne since mid-May.
Will Chambers is also named to make his debut for the Maroons while Ryan Hoffman will line up in the NSW second row for his sixth consecutive game.
That total of five Origin players for Game III is the most of any NRL club.
The Storm will be desperate for every one of them to back up for this weekend’s meeting with the third-placed Bulldogs.
Melbourne is currently one of seven teams deadlocked on 20 premiership points – making Saturday night’s meeting at AAMI Park crucial to the club’s 2014 fortunes.