Warren Lynam

Cooper Cronk is the man: Justin Hodges

RETIRING Queensland centre Justin Hodges believes recent NRL and representative results confirm Melbourne halfback Cooper Cronk is rugby league's most under-rated player.

Hodges hopes to play his 23rd and final Origin alongside Cronk in Wednesday week's series decider in front of a packed Suncorp Stadium crowd, with the Storm playmaker tipped as a possible starter against the Bulldogs on Monday night.

He underwent minor knee surgery soon after the first Origin game in Sydney in late May to repair a minor meniscus tear in his right knee, and according to club sources, is slightly ahead of schedule and an outside chance of playing against the Dogs if he can train this week.

Hodges said Cronk's contribution often got lost because he played with greats such as Johnathan Thurston and Greg Inglis, as well as his club teammates and superstars Cameron Smith and Billy Slater who tended to grab most of the headlines.

However, his importance to both Melbourne and Queensland is borne out of the fact the Maroons have lost three of their last five games without him, while Melbourne enjoyed a glut of possession against Brisbane last weekend but could not find a way through the Broncos' defence.

Cronk played just 10 minutes in game one of the 2014 Origin series after breaking his arm, New South Wales winning the match 12-8.

He missed game two when the Blues finally

ended eight years of Origin misery with a 6-4 victory, but returned for game three which Queensland won 32-8.

The 31-year-old was crucial in game one of the current series, scoring a try and kicking the winning field goal in the 11-10 win in Sydney, but was absent in Melbourne when NSW levelled the series with a 26-18 win at the MCG.

Hodges told APN Cronk was "very under-rated considering what he offers a team".

"You only have to look back to first game last year's series when we lost him," Hodges said.

"We lost that game and we lost game two without him.

"He came back for game three and turned everything around for us.

"You just love having him on your side. Like JT (Thurston) he's one hell of a competitor."

Hodges said the halfback was someone who built his life around structure which was why he was so solid under pressure.

"He's a guy that doesn't go away from anything, the way he plans his day, everything he does he does is 100%.

"He is one of those guys you can't replace on any footy team."

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