NSW are growing increasingly wary of the influence talisman Cooper Cronk’s return will have on a hurting Queensland side ahead of State of Origin III.
Cronk starred in the Maroons’ game one victory in Sydney earlier this year, scoring a try and kicking the match-winning field goal, before missing game two at the MCG due to a knee injury.
The Melbourne Storm halfback returns for Wednesday’s decider in a match that could be the swansong for some of his long-time Queensland teammates.
“It is a massive boost for them,” Blues five-eighth Mitchell Pearce said.
“I’m sure it is something they will get a lot of confidence out of, it is something they like to talk about a lot: Cooper Cronk playing or not playing.
“He is all class, he has been around a long time and he brings a lot to their side.
“It is no secret he will have a big game, so for us we have to play better.”
Queensland was leading when Cronk broke his arm in game one at Suncorp Stadium last year, which NSW went on to win.
He then missed the Blues’ series-winning victory in Origin II, before returning in the Maroons’ emphatic game three win to avoid a Blues clean sweep.
Blues back-rower Ryan Hoffman and Cronk’s former premiership-winning teammate at the Storm knows as well as anyone what he brings to a side, with Queensland still stinging from their MCG loss.
“Cooper is Queensland’s No.1 halfback so his combination is something that they have worked hard on for a few years and that has been quite successful for them,” Hoffman said.
“They are certainly going to be a better side and we have to be a better side as well.”