State of Origin: Cooper Cronk to play Game 1 after shrugging off ankle injury

Australia's Cooper Cronk (R) in action

It will come as little surprise to New South Wales but Cooper Cronk will play the 2016 State of Origin series opener in Sydney after the Queensland halfback shrugged off the ankle injury that had threatened his participation in Wednesday night’s match – and sparked accusations of mind games from the opposition camp.

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The influential Cronk rolled his ankle during Maroons training on Friday, casting doubt over his involvement in the game at ANZ Stadium. Queensland had given the Melbourne Storm star as much time as possible to recuperate with coach Kevin Walters saying on Tuesday a final decision on his fitness would come at the eleventh hour.

Cronk trained for the first time since suffering the injury on the eve of the match and Maroons assistant Anthony Seibold confirmed he came through the session unscathed and would take to the field in Game 1.

“He trained really well last night,” Seibold said. “I can confirm he is going to start tonight.

“Cooper is a real team person, he wouldn’t play if he was at any risk ... There was a lot in the media about whether there was an injury or not. But you saw he didn’t train. He missed a couple of sessions but he will be fine. He’s ready to go. When he says he is right and medical staff give him the green light, he is good to go.”

News of Cronk’s injury had prompted scorn from the New South Wales camp, which over the past five days maintained its belief that he would be cleared to play and the injury was nothing more than an attempt at unsettling the Blues’ preparations. The NSW captain, Paul Gallen, suggested Cronk was being used as a pawn in Queensland’s mind games while the Blues’ assistant coach Matt Parish said on Wednesday: “He’s a quick healer, obviously.”

Smoke and mirrors or otherwise, Cronk’s inclusion comes as a blow to the Blues – his importance to the Queensland team cannot be underestimated and on the two occasions he has been missing from the Maroons’ lineup since becoming the regular occupant of the No 7 jersey in 2012, Queensland have lost.

“Cooper’s record speaks for itself,” Seibold said. “The last couple of games he missed Queensland haven’t gone too well. Having him in the group is a real win for us.”

The 2016 series kicks off with New South Wales looking to avenge last year’s defeat, which culminated in a heavy 52-6 loss in the decider that ensured Queensland reclaimed the Origin shield.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Mike Hytner, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 1st June 2016 03.36 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010