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Cronk poised for shock NRL return

Joe Barton 25/08/2011 05:44:31 PM Comments (0)

Melbourne halfback Cooper Cronk is poised to make a shock return for Friday night's NRL blockbuster against Manly at Brookvale Oval.

Cronk didn't travel with his teammates but was expected to catch a later flight on Thursday night, increasing his chances of being a late inclusion for the hotly anticipated top-of-the-table match.

One of the Storm's 'big three' with Billy Slater and Cameron Smith, Cronk injured his ankle in the round 23 win over Gold Coast and would give the ladder leaders a major boost against their fierce rivals Manly.

"He didn't travel with us, but that's not to say he won't be playing," assistant coach Kevin Walters told AAP on Thursday.

"We'll give him every chance to get himself right, so we'll just see what happens in the next couple of days."

Considered little chance of returning this week when coach Craig Bellamy left him out of the side named on Tuesday, the Test and Queensland representative has worked hard on his recovery in a desperate bid to take on the Sea Eagles.

"He's been improving which is really good, and he's a real professional with his footy and looking after himself, so he's given himself every chance that's for sure," Walters added.

"He hasn't spent a lot of time with the team this week so 50/50 is probably a good call of where he is at.

"It is a big game, but we went in last week (an 8-6 win over St George Illawarra) without him as well and we got through OK."

Cronk's likely inclusion shows Melbourne's desire to keep their club record 12-game winning streak going - but also how much they value victory over the Sea Eagles.

The two teams have forged a bitter rivalry over recent seasons, starting with Melbourne's dominant 34-8 grand final win in 2007, to which Manly replied with an even more emphatic 40-0 victory the following year.

The stripping of Melbourne's 2007 premiership for massive salary cap breaches further inflamed relations between the clubs.

Despite both Bellamy and Manly coach Des Hasler playing down the importance of the game, Manly lock Glenn Stewart was adamant it was a victory the Sea Eagles would treasure.

Manly are undefeated at home in 2011 and a victory on Friday night would give them an outside chance at the minor premiership.

"We'll certainly be going for the win," Stewart said.

"But I think the more important (result) is running into the finals with a head of steam and we'll just be getting our own game pretty close to flawless.

"As long as we roll in with a head of steam I think we'll be there at the end of the year.

"(And) winning so many in a row I don't see why (Melbourne won't be thinking the same).

"They have added pressure on them to keep that (streak) going, but they're a class side and it's no fluke they have that many wins in a row."

Walters said Melbourne, who will clinch the minor premiership with victory, would also be holding nothing back.

"It's one v two and there is a rivalry there," he said.

"Everyone likes playing Manly and everyone likes playing against the Storm so they both like playing against each other, there's no question.

"The clashes over the years have been tremendous and have had plenty in them and I don't see this one being any different."

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