He may be ruled out with injury but Cooper Cronk is still having a major influence on Queensland ahead of Wednesday’s State of Origin II in Melbourne.
Maroons coach Mal Meninga says the injured halfback has helped create a “lovey dovey” team atmosphere that has helped Billy Slater and Daly Cherry-Evans prepare for what looms as a brutal Origin II.
Ruled out with a knee injury, Melbourne-based playmaker Cronk has still made a huge impact on the team after chiming into the Queensland camp this week.
“Cooper has been present in our team,” Meninga said.
“He has had a steadying influence on Daly, having him around the team it is all comfortable and lovey dovey.
“He wants to be part of it as well.
“It is good to have him around.”
NSW have made no secret of a plan to test out Slater’s shoulder which may require season-ending surgery after game two in Melbourne.
And Maroons backrower Sam Thaiday is on standby as bodyguard for fill-in halfback Cherry-Evans, who is also back from a shoulder complaint.
Meninga said he knew exactly what was coming in game two after being asked if he could confirm Slater’s fitness.
“Billy’s fine, he’s ready to play really well for the Queensland team and I’m pretty sure he will be a target from the NSW perspective,” he said.
“So we’re ready to go, ready to rumble.”
Slater has not played since Queensland’s win in the series opener in Sydney last month.
There is also pressure on Cherry-Evans to perform after stepping up in Cronk’s absence in the wake of his dramatic NRL contract backflip.
Cherry-Evans was booed by Queensland fans while playing for Manly at a recent NRL clash days after reneging on a four-year Gold Coast deal and staying at Manly.
Besides his form, Cherry-Evans’ body will also be tested.
Blues forward Ryan Hoffman looms as his game two nemesis after targeting Cherry-Evans when the Manly playmaker has filled in for Cronk in the past.
But if Meninga was concerned, it didn’t show on Monday.
“We have spoken about it before when he talked about internal and external pressures,” he said.
“Everything put upon Daly at the moment has all been external – there’s no internal pressure.
“We just want him to play his own game, prepare well and play to his potential.
“And players are helping him do that. He is fairly relaxed and I am sure he is looking forward to it.”