Former NSW hooker Robbie Farah believes South Sydney team-mate Damien Cook is ready to claim the Blues No.9 jersey when the State of Origin squads are named on Monday after helping him to improve his defence this season.
Cook is locked in a two-way battle for the NSW hooking role with St George Illawarra's Cameron McInnes, who Dragons coach Paul McGregor revealed on Friday had recently been spoken to by Blues assistant coach Danny Buderus during a visit to training.
McInnes was the NRL's leading tackler in 2017 with 1155 tackles but it is an area Cook has worked hard on this season. Cook is second with 42.36 tackles per game in 2018 behind Brisbane's Andrew McCullough, who is expected to be the Queensland hooker.
"His game has gone from strength to strength this year," Farah said.
"I think he has always had that speed that everyone talks about but he has got a lot more confidence and defensively is something I have tried to help him with through the preseason," Farah said.
Farah lined up for NSW in 16 Origin games and believes Cook would hold his own in rugby league's toughest arena.
"That is what Origin is about, being able to defend through those tough times, and I think defensively he has improved out of sight," he said.
"At the start of the year if you asked many good judges, or even if you asked him, they would have said he needed to pick up his game defensively but he has done that and his form has been outstanding."
Blues coach Brad Fittler will announce his squad on Monday night and there is a possibility he could choose McInnes to start and Cook on the interchange bench, as the pair played in 2016 for the Rabbitohs.
However, Penrith's Tyrone Peachey is believed to be favoured as the back-up dummy half due to his versatility in a number of positions from centre to back-row as well as the halves.
McGregor said Fittler, Buderus and NSW adviser Greg Alexander visited WIN Stadium two weeks ago and talked to the Dragons squad, with Buderus speaking specifically to McInnes.
"Brad, Brandy and Bedsy came down two weeks ago to training and had a good conversation around who they are looking at and where some players need to improve as well, which was good," McGregor said.
"Obviously, they had a chat with the group, and Bedsy had a little bit of a chat with Cam about a couple of things in his game. I'm not sure how much they spoke to other players but I know Danny spoke to Cam about his game."
With the Dragons playing Penrith and Souths facing the Warriors, the performances of McInnes and Cook for their clubs this weekend could decide who gets the nod for the opening Holden State of Origin match at the MCG on June 6.
"Cooky has got the runs on the board this year with his form and his consistency," Farah said.
"He has been doing it week in and week out, so I am sure another good game this week against the Warriors will probably get him over the line."
Farah has been playing for North Sydney in the NSW Intrust Super Premiership. The 34-year-old is expected to make his first NRL appearance of the season in next Friday night’s match against Cronulla, if Cook is selected for NSW.
"Origin is a different beast so I will talk to him about that if he does get a start," Farah said.
"I am coming towards the end of my career and Cooky is in the prime of his career so I am here to help him and help out the squad in whatever role need be.
"While there has been a competitive rivalry between us for the past 18 months we are also pushing each other along as well. If I am needed or if I do get a chance I will step in there and do my best for the team."