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Cronk out of Storm NRL grand final rematch

NZN 7/06/2017 Scott Bailey

Cooper Cronk will miss Melbourne's NRL grand final rematch with Cronulla on Thursday night as the State of Origin workload takes its toll.

Cronk arrived to train with the Storm for the first time since Friday's 40-12 flogging of Newcastle, but Melbourne officials determined he needed a rest.

Kiwi back-rower Tohu Harris will replace Cronk in the halves.

The top-of-the-table match would have been the Queensland halfback's third game in eight days, after Wednesday's high-paced 28-4 Origin loss to NSW.

Maroons centre Will Chambers was named on Wednesday night in Storm coach Craig Bellamy's 19-man squad, while captain Cameron Smith will return after being rested for the Newcastle clash.

"It is three games in eight days - that's a hectic schedule especially with a real quick Origin game," Bellamy said on Wednesday.

Cronk's withdrawal came after Sharks coach Shane Flanagan set the scene for another spiteful encounter, when he admitted a number of players from either team didn't like each other.

Their last clash - in Melbourne in round six - was one of the fieriest of the season and Thursday night's clash at Southern Cross Group Stadium is expected to be no different.

The Sharks' 11-2 win in April reached boiling point when in-form veteran Paul Gallen and Wade Graham were reportedly labelled "drug cheats" by a Storm player, an apparent reference to the Cronulla supplements scandal.

Flanagan suggested on Wednesday any repeat sledging would only spur the former NSW Origin captain Gallen to greater heights in the clash.

"Gal is a big man," Flanagan said.

"I'm sure he's copped plenty of that - probably worse.

"If they want to come and sledge us, I'm sure Gal will handle that."

The rivalry between Melbourne and Cronulla has grown over recent seasons.

Aside from last year's grand final, the two teams have strong representation in the NSW and Queensland Origin teams.

"There's a few players who dislike each other," Flanagan said.

"As a club playing in a grand final against each other, there's always going to be some history there.

"Our players are excited by that challenge."

The clash is anticipated to be another torrid battle with wet weather hitting Sydney.

The two teams are first and second in the league defensively, but also give away the equal-most penalties with 90 each already this season.

Fullbacks Valentine Holmes and Billy Slater are in contention for Queensland Origin call-up, while props Andrew Fifita and Jesse Bromwich will clash for the first time since the Anzac Test.

STATS THAT MATTER:

* Cronulla have the best defence in 2017, conceding 154 points. Melbourne are ranked second with 177

* Both teams have given away 90 penalties this year, the most in the NRL

* Cronulla have beaten Melbourne in three of the past four matches, but have not scored above 14 in any of them

Source: Fox Sports Stats

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