PROLIFIC centre Ben Crooks has been passed fit to make a shock return for Hull FC’s Tetley’s Challenge Cup final against Wigan Warriors.
The highly-rated youngster had initially been ruled out for the season after suffering an ankle injury against Bradford Bulls last month.
After successful surgery, though, it was hoped the 20-year-old could possibly be fit in time for the Super League play-offs in September.
However, Crooks has now made an astonishing recovery and the Yorkshire Post understands he will be named later today in coach Peter Gentle’s 19-man squad for Wembley.
He resumed full training on Monday, successfully negotiated Tuesday’s session and was then given the all-clear yesterday after the ankle showed no signs of negative reaction.
A front-runner for Super League’s Young Player of the Year, Crooks’s availability is a significant boost for the East Yorkshire club given fellow centre Joe Arundel is out with a broken hand.
The former Castleford Tigers player had grasped his opportunity when Crooks was sidelined, playing all four games since, including the epic Challenge Cup semi-final win over Warrington Wolves.
Cruelly, though, Arundel – who turns 22 today – suffered the injury in Friday’s victory over Salford City Reds and yesterday Tweeted that he was undergoing immediate surgery.
Gentle requires Crooks’s strike power more than ever given winger Tom Lineham (ankle) appears to have lost his own battle to be fit in time for the showpiece meaning Jason Crookes should retain his place at Wembley.
Richard Horne is also set to be included in the 19-man squad and therefore remains in contention to play for the first time since Magic Weekend in May.
The versatile 31-year-old, who won the Challenge Cup with Hull in 2005, could see his vast experience win him an immediate return at full-back if Gentle opts against the raw talent of pacey youngster Jamie Shaul.
It would be deemed a major gamble by many, however, to pick both Crooks – whose father Lee and uncle Steve ‘Knocker’ Norton both played for Hull in the classic 1985 Wembley final against Wigan – and Horne together in the same Black and Whites’ backline given their recent absences.
Hull travel down to London today to begin final preparations as they seek to better their last appearance five years ago when they lost out to St Helens.
Much-coveted Wigan full-back Sam Tomkins, meanwhile, is sure to be central to their cause on Saturday.
However, the reigning Man of Steel has again refused to be drawn on his future as it emerges Canterbury Bulldogs as well as fellow NRL club New Zealand Warriors are both in for his services.
“I am concentrating on Wigan, I have not signed any contracts,” said the England international.
“I am looking forward to Wembley, then hopefully going to a Grand Final and playing the World Cup at the end of the year so there’s nothing to tell.”