Cook signing no blow to McInnes's ego
As vital as Damien Cook's signature may be to the Rabbitohs' fortunes in 2016, his new teammate Cameron McInnes has hailed the former Bulldog's arrival as being just as important for his own career development.
With Issac Luke's departure creating a sizeable hole in the club's hooking stocks, McInnes was the only specialist dummy-half in the South Sydney squad before Cook signed in October.
Now with the two vying for the No.9 jumper, and coach Michael Maguire hinting that both Cook and McInnes may feature in his first choice team come March, the stakes have never been higher for the two relatively inexperienced first-graders.
"When Issac goes and I'm the only hooker on the roster they surely had to sign someone. The club would have been mad not to go after him," McInnes told NRL.com.
"If I wasn't to have that player pushing me you can sometimes get comfortable as well. I was happy when I heard the news because I've never shied away from competition that's for sure.
"With Cookie coming over, he's made it important for me to put my best foot forward every single week. I'm going to have to take my game to another level. As will he. Either way it's going to improve both of us so I see it as a positive, not a negative.
"You can't look at it as an ego hit because if they hadn't signed him, in three years time as an example, I'll guarantee you there will be some young superstar hooker coming through at South Sydney looking to take my spot – same as I was trying to do to Issac."
Sitting beside coach Maguire at the Charity Shield launch on Wednesday, McInnes showed confidence beyond his years as he shut down reporters who claimed he had been Luke's deputy in previous years.
"I've never seen myself as an understudy. I've always strived for that No.9 spot," he said.
"In the past I've played where I've played, but I've always been after that jersey. If I want it now, I have to work even harder.
"I'll walk my own path."
Such confidence exhibited by the 21-year-old is an example of what the Rabbitohs see in the former under-20s skipper and local Botany Rams junior.
If he can get that No.9 jersey McInnes says he is ready to take on extra responsibilities within the team in 2016, with an eye on improving his combinations with the spine of Luke Keary, Adam Reynolds and Greg Inglis.
"I've been playing footy since I was a little kid and it's all I've ever wanted to do. I've always had confidence and belief in myself that I'd reach this point," McInnes said.
"I suppose as you get older as well you mature, and there's an opportunity this year for it to go to another level and I'm excited for that opportunity. I want it to be mine so there's no point shying away from that I don't think.
"I've always favoured towards being a captain or being a leader – someone who takes action in a team. For me it's a natural thing and I do enjoy having responsibility so I'm definitely looking towards improving as the year goes on.
"My goal is to have my best ever season in the NRL and consistently play a high level of football I know I'm capable of playing. I know I can achieve that, and I'm feeling really confident about the season ahead."