Confident Cronk in no need of protection
Maroons captain Cameron Smith is confident Cooper Cronk will handle any extra attention from New South Blues in next Wednesday's Origin decider after the Queensland half declared himself 100 per cent fit to take his place in the team.
Cronk will have missed a month of football – including State of Origin II – after suffering a low-grade meniscus tear in his right knee while playing for the Storm against Penrith in Round 13, but said on Friday morning that he was feeling no ill effects after completing Thursday's training session.
"I did a little bit of training at Melbourne Storm before I came here and to be honest it was touch and go for the Monday night game against the Bulldogs," said Cronk.
"I didn't want to be that guy who was icing his knee, missing sessions every second day in six to eight weeks' time because there's a big back-end of the year to get through.
"The smart decision was to rest because Melbourne Storm had the bye anyway so if there was no Origin game I probably wouldn't have played for Melbourne Storm [against the Bulldogs] anyway.
"Trained yesterday, did everything, no issues, no ill effects so absolutely will be there on Wednesday night."
Cronk's direction and cool head under pressure – not to mention another match-winning field goal – was the difference in Queensland's 11-10 win in Game One and his absence was noticeable as the Maroons went down in Game Two in Melbourne.
In Game Two last year the Blues successfully targeted Daly Cherry-Evans after he had been in doubt with a knee injury in the build-up but Smith believes the Blues are misguided if they think Cronk is a potential weak link on Wednesday night.
"I think Cooper's more than ready to go. He trained strongly yesterday and I think he was very close to playing last Monday night for the Storm to be honest," Smith said.
"He just didn't feel like he would have been able to give 100 per cent for the Storm and he's been around long enough. He's played more than 250 games at NRL level and played plenty of Origins and Tests so if they're going to try and target him, then good luck to them, he'll handle it."
It's the second year in succession that Cronk has beaten an injury timeline to take his place in the Queensland team for Game Three, although 12 months ago his return from a broken arm was in a dead rubber at Suncorp Stadium.
But everything goes on the line in Brisbane on Wednesday night and Cronk said there was no way he wasn't going to give himself every possible opportunity to take the field.
"When someone gives you a timeframe and it's right on the edge, you want to push the boundaries," said the 31-year-old ahead of his 16th Origin appearance.
"When people say to ice your knee every hour, I do it twice; if someone says stretch four times I do it five times and that's just wanting to be available and wanting to get there.
"I've got a really good medical department at Melbourne Storm, they push the boundaries in terms of getting you up off your feet and getting movement and getting blood flowing into the joint but for the first three days they said the best thing to do was to get the swelling out of the joint.
"So all I did was lay on the couch, rest up, and didn't move. Found a really good ice machine that helped me and here we are."