Queensland State of Origin coach Kevin Walters has saluted Cooper Cronk’s mental toughness, comparing his recovery from an ankle injury to when Trevor Gillmeister famously left his hospital bed to play.
Walters admitted he was resigned to Cronk being sidelined for the Origin opener in Sydney after the halfback badly rolled his ankle last Friday at training.
Given five days to recover, Cronk moved in with the team physiotherapist at their Gold Coast team camp to begin round-the-clock treatment, risking serious sleep deprivation.
Cronk capped a remarkable comeback by playing a key hand in Queensland’s gritty 6-4 Origin I win over NSW on Wednesday night at ANZ Stadium.
Walters said watching Cronk running around gave him flashbacks to when Gillmeister risked his life and left his hospital bed to lead Queensland in a 1995 “dead rubber”.
“It is up there with Gilly, yeah,” Walters said.
“They are all mentally tough characters, these boys.”
Walters sounded just as surprised as anyone when Cronk came bounding out to training on match day to confirm his availability.
“I really couldn’t believe it. I gave him no chance of playing,” he said.
“I saw him roll his ankle and how quickly it swelled up.
“But Cooper being Cooper, he did everything right and got himself fit.
“After 20 minutes at training (on match eve), he came up to me and said ‘I am right to go’.
“I thought ‘thank the Lord’.”
Cronk showed no ill effect from his draining preparation, peppering rookie fullback Matt Moylan with fearsome spiralling kicks from the outset.
“To see him compete for 80 minutes was remarkable,” Walters said.
“His kicking was the main concern for us.
“But once he booted a few at training, I knew he would be okay.”
Cronk seemed surprised that NSW thought the Queensland camp were foxing over his injury.
TV footage showed Cronk’s badly bruised ankle as he warmed up on Wednesday night before the match.
“There was no smoke and mirrors. I was in serious trouble on Friday,” Cronk said.
“But thanks to the physio and doc and round-the-clock treatment, it pulled up really well.
“It’s a pleasure to pull on the Maroon jersey and play a game like that.”
Cronk was happy to help Walters celebrate his first game taking over from the legendary Mal Meninga as Queensland coach.
“He’s a passionate Queenslander but there was a bit of pressure on him – he was obviously nervous,” he said.
“But Kevvie loved coaching this team. You could see it from day one – it was in his eyes.
“It’s great to win one for him.”