Born on the 4th of July: Cooper's epic Origin tale
The birth of Gavin Cooper’s Origin career is so closely tied to the birth of his two sons you’d swear there was some kind of unfolding destiny to his Queensland career.
The 32-year-old Cowboys back-rower plays every Origin game like it his last, and with memories of his first at the forefront of his mind.
They celebrate July 4 in the United States as Independence Day but for the veteran Maroon it may as well be re-badged as ‘Gavin Cooper Day’.
It was on that date in 2016 when Cooper received the call that he would make his belated Origin debut in 2016, the birthday of his first son Archie. A day later his second son Reggie arrived.
But July 4, 2016 dawned with Cooper feeling a bit dusty.
"I was actually a bit hungover," Cooper grinned.
Match: Blues vs Maroons
Venue: Melbourne Cricket Ground
- Nine Network
"We’d played the Rabbitohs in Cairns on the Sunday and I had a couple of calls from Greeny [Cowboys coach Paul Green].
"I kept brushing his calls because I thought someone might have been in trouble from the night before, so I kept hitting ‘ignore’, ‘ignore’. Then he called a third time pretty quickly. I was trying to sleep but I thought ‘this must be important’. I answered the call from Greeny and he said ‘you’re in. Kev’s going to call you soon’.
"I said ‘shit joke Greeny’…but a couple of minutes later Kev did call and I was over the moon."
It was an Origin berth he’d been waiting for after toiling for 11 years in the NRL, but there was another birth on his mind.
"My wife was heavily pregnant," Cooper recalled. "They called me on the 4th of July, my first boy Archie's birthday. We were going to have our second baby on the Thursday and camp started Tuesday.
"So we rang around all of Monday afternoon to try and get an appointment to bring our bub forward to the 5th, so Tenille could have the baby and I could go into camp.
"We had the baby, Reggie, the next morning, I stayed home for a few days and got into camp on the Thursday.”
Cooper knows he is not in the same position as a Kalyn Ponga. He doesn’t have 10 years of representing Queensland ahead of him.
"That’s why I’ve looked at every one of my Origin games like it is my last,” he said.
"I still remember when Kev called me back in 2016. I told him ‘I thought that ship had sailed’.
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"I’d been there or thereabouts for a long time. My name was always tossed up around every Origin time and there would be another story on ‘will Cooper get his chance’. It had been that way for over 10 years so to finally get a crack was special.”
Last year Cooper got another call from Walters before game one. The coach was going with the nucleus of the team that had won the opening two matches the previous year, but he told him to "hang in".
Cooper played the house down for the Cowboys and was on deck for the two games the Maroons won to clinch the series.
He's back again for the Holden State of Origin series opener on Wednesday night at the MCG.
"The selectors have shown faith that I can do the job because I have been there and done it before," the 273-game NRL veteran said.
"I know what I bring to the team. The coaches know. That is what I am here to do, nothing more and nothing less.
"I play tough and compete in everything. I’ve been playing first grade for my 13years and this is just my third year of Origin so it is still very, very exciting for me. This is only my fourth time in camp. It is still fresh."
When Walters number comes up on his phone around Origin time Cooper doesn’t know whether it will be to say "in" or "out". A fortnight ago it was memorable again, for two reasons.
"Whenever I see Kev call I know it’s good or it’s bad," Cooper grinned.
"I’ll take whichever one he gives me but fortunately this time it was another good call…and this time I was up in emergency. My young fella had hurt his foot and we were sitting in the hospital. There is always a drama in my family around Origin."
Witness Australia's greatest sporting rivalry when Origin comes to the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Wednesday, June 6. Bronze tickets available from $49 here.