Maroons prepare for life without Cronk
Johnathan Thurston has been handed the reins to the Queensland attack as coach Kevin Walters concedes that they must now prepare as though halfback Cooper Cronk will miss the opening game of the 2016 Holden State of Origin Series next Wednesday night.
Cronk suffered an ankle injury in an innocuous training mishap on Friday afternoon and while scan results cleared him of any major structural damage he is now racing the clock to be able to take his place in Game One.
Walters stressed to NRL.com that given his Origin record Cronk will be given until gameday to prove his fitness but admitted that with only two further training sessions to prepare that Thurston will have to assume the role as primary playmaker.
Thurston, who was battling a hip injury of his own early in the week, will pair up with Cowboys halves partner Michael Morgan in Sunday's opposed session on the Gold Coast with Manly half Daly Cherry-Evans joining the squad as a potential replacement on the bench.
When New South Wales won the 2014 Series Cronk suffered a broken arm 10 minutes into Game One that also kept him out of Game Two and the Blues' sole win last year came in Game Two in Melbourne when Cronk was also absent.
Walters is well aware of his star half's influence on the team and remains hopeful that four days out from the game he has enough time to recover and take the field.
"Certainly, he deserves that," Walters said of giving Cronk as much time as possible to recover.
"Like you'd expect from Cooper, I know he's working really hard to get himself right and we'll give him every chance to play.
"When he doesn't play we haven't won.
"In one of the games [in 2014] we had 'DCE' (Daly Cherry-Evans) and in another he got injured early so this time around we're probably going to have to prepare as if he's not playing and if he does play then that will be a bonus.
"Johnathan has got enough time now in his head to get that right, he does it every week so it will be a good challenge for him as well."
Thurston himself remains confident that his chosen halves partner will recover in time but acknowledges that his role in the team will change if Cronk is ruled out.
Cronk's organisational skills have given Thurston the freedom to take advantage of the few opportunities that Origin presents by playing a more instinctive brand of football but he accepts that will fall on his shoulders.
"Obviously it hinders it a bit, he's our halfback so it's a pretty important position," Thurston said of the impact on their preparation.
"He's the best at it, getting the boys around the park so obviously at training now I'll fill that role and 'Morgo' will play the six role. It's a little bit disruptive but we just have to deal with it.
"I'd have to take on more of a role of getting the boys around the park. Morgo is not accustomed to doing that at club level or this level so me and 'Smithy' (Maroons hooker Cameron Smith) would take the reins there with 'Darbs' (Darius Boyd) and get the boys around the park.
"We'll be fine if Cooper's not there in that regard but no doubt he's an important player in our team.
"I don't know what our success rate is like when he's not in it but I don't think it's too good."