Dogs turn to resident sage and Cook
For just the second time this year, Canterbury-Bankstown's resident sage Reni Maitua will get his opportunity to make his influence on the field, rather than off it.
The veteran's 11-year career has been whittled to little more than a coaching role since returning to Belmore over the summer, helping the club's plethora of young talent as they enter life under the NRL spotlight.
Current team-mate Mitch Brown watched Maitua play the same mentoring-type role in the Shire back in 2009 and believes the Bulldogs are also benefiting.
"He's very passionate about the Bulldogs and his team-mates. Reni's been around for a while now and he's taking guys like Moses Mbye under his wing and trying to bring him out of his shell a bit more and be more confident," Brown said.
"I was lucky enough to play with Reni back at Cronulla and he did the same thing. He took [Blake] Ferguson under his wing, so he's very good with the young players, helping them grow and helping bring them up. So he's very good to have at the club."
But the teaching stops and the showing starts this weekend, with the 31-year-old whisked into the five-eighth role for the match against his old club in place of another one of the club's burgeoning young talents, Josh Reynolds.
Maitua was named by coach Des Hasler to play pivot against the Roosters a fortnight ago but with his protégé, Moses Mbye steering the team around, he was shuffled to the bench and limited to spot minutes in his only NRL outing of the season so far.
Mbye's unfortunate foot injury in that game has forced Hasler to again turn to Maitua, as well as another off-season recruit in Damien Cook.
Brown said if his old team-mate had been frustrated by his lack of game time, then he wasn't showing it.
"He's just been sticking in and putting his head down, playing some good footy in 'reggies' (reserve grade). I think he came here knowing he's going to start in reggies and he's had to fight his way in," he said.
"And it's happening now. As long as he gets his chance to prove himself, he'll be happy."
Cook is a 22-year-old utility player who arrived late last year after a couple of seasons on the fringes at the Dragons. An impressive campaign with NSW Cup side Illawarra Cutters was rewarded with a one-year contract in 2013, where he appeared in two games.
Primarily a hooker that has expanded his game to fullback, Cook was one of the Bulldogs' best trainers during the off-season but badly injured his hand prior to the trials.
"He had a hand injury like myself, his one's a bit more serious," said team-mate Tim Lafai. "He's only been back since Round 5 or 6 but yeah, he's been playing good games. I watched him [in NSW Cup], he's just real quick and consistent. And he's tough around the middle. That's what we need.
"He'll definitely bring his best game and do his best for the boys out there. He'll prove to himself that he can play first grade as well."