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Johnathan Thurston at Queensland training ahead of Origin I.

The most dominant player of the modern era has taken charge of the Queensland Origin team in the absence of Cooper Cronk with coaching staff saying they have never heard Johnathan Thurston be so vocal at training.

The Maroons conducted an extensive opposed session on the Gold Coast on Sunday morning and while Cronk's absence as he attempts to recover from an ankle injury was expected, not having Manly half Daly Cherry-Evans on standby was something of a surprise.

Cherry-Evans returned to his Manly home as Queensland finalise their preparations for Game One of the 2016 Holden State of Origin Series hopeful that Cronk will play but by no means certain.

Warriors prop Jacob Lillyman is expected to come into the 17 if Cronk is unable to recover in time with Queensland's lack of success without the champion Storm half and their record of two wins from their past six starts at ANZ Stadium a worrying sign portent for those north of the border.

In the past three matches that Cronk has played little to no part in – he broke his arm 10 minutes into Game One in 2014 – the Maroons have been unable to beat the Blues with the combination of Thurston and Cherry-Evans not appearing to gel.

If Cronk doesn't play on Wednesday night Thurston will pair up with his Cowboys halves partner Michael Morgan and assistant coach Trevor Gillmeister said the four-time Dally M Medal winner wasted no time in asserting his authority.

"To be totally honest, it's probably a little bit of a good thing. It gives everyone else a bit more responsibility," Gillmeister said of Cronk's current absence.

"They get used to 'Coops' running the show and doing all that and 'Morgs' did a terrific job [in the opposed session] and we know how good a player 'JT' is.

"He was talking the most I've ever seen in Origin preparations so it's probably not a bad thing in some regards."

The combination of Cronk and Thurston for Queensland is so effective because their respective skill sets are so complementary, with the military precision of Cronk freeing up Thurston to play off his brilliant instinct.

Rather than bringing Cherry-Evans into the mix, Maroons back-rower Sam Thaiday believes the club combination of Thurston and Morgan will provide a more seamless transition if Cronk is to be ruled out.

"The best thing is that JT and Morgs have that combination if need be, which definitely helps," said Thaiday.

"Morgo had a little bit of a run the other day with us playing in that halfback position so we just have to adjust a couple of things.

"JT will take more control with 'Smithy' (Queensland hooker Cameron Smith) and lead us and direct us around the park.

"JT has only grown and gotten better as a player as well. As you see at club level he's very successful and leads the Cowboys around every week and has led them to a premiership as well.

"I'm sure that he can take on this Origin role now and lead this team to victory if need be."


It's only 12 months ago that Morgan made his Origin debut and he said earlier in the week he was still trying to prove himself at Origin level.

He started off the bench in all three games last year and although slated to be a 'super sub' again on Wednesday night has the confidence of senior Maroons players to come into the starting team at halfback if necessary.

"He's been part of the fold for two years now, he plays week in, week out footy with 'Thursto' so that combination has obviously proved that it works," Corey Parker said.

"He'll fill that void until such time as 'Coops' is able to come back and if not I'm sure Morgs will do a fine job."

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