Tedesco on Cook alert as old rivalry resumes
Friday's top-of-the-table clash has no shortage of fascinating subplots but the way the Roosters' cohort of Blues players handle the Rabbitohs' red-hot NSW hooker Damien Cook could well decide the match.
Cook's sublime 2018 has underpinned South Sydney's incredible resurgence under Anthony Seibold, earning the former Bulldogs and Dragons rake a successful Origin debut series.
He produced arguably his best performance of the season in last week's impressive win over the Storm and used his blistering pace to produce one of the best individual tries of the year, putting the Roosters on high alert for the threat he poses through the middle.
The Roosters' NSW custodian James Tedesco combined well with Cook through Origin, particularly when the pair shredded the Maroons' middle in game one, and the fullback's defensive organisation and intimate knowledge of Cook's game will be needed to help the Tricolours shut down the livewire No.9 at ANZ Stadium on Friday night.
"Whenever there's a quick play-the-ball he's off, and just creates that ruck speed for them," Tedesco said.
"They've obviously got a big forward pack, he sees opportunities and he just takes them. His speed, it's pretty hard to stop. I love playing with him and I love watching him and he's a big threat when we come up against him.
"That will be a big focus for us this week to nullify those quick play-the-balls and nullify him getting out of there pretty fast."
Cook's recent form also earned the unsurprising praise of his Rabbitohs teammates. Prop Tom Burgess, enjoying arguably the best season of his NRL career, said it was good to see Cook taking the opportunities generated by the big boys through the middle.
His background building his pace as a beach sprinter had also earned him a nickname out Redfern way.
"Yeah, we call him the sand-shifter!" Burgess laughed.
"His form throughout the year this year has been great."
Burgess was in support, trying to keep up with Cook as his pace and footwork dazzled the Storm for that try last week, which came remarkably after the hooker had several players land on his ankle appearing to cause some damage.
"He got caught with a knock there, I think there was about 400 kilos landed on his ankle and he still recovered and shot through," Burgess recalled.
"I was shouting on the inside saying 'I'm free I'm free' but he didn't need us, he just keep balancing which was good."
While Cook is arguably the form player of the competition, fellow Origin star Latrell Mitchell is up there with him following a powerful return of six tries in his past three games.
Tedesco said Origin had only served to heighten the Roosters centre's self-belief.
"The confidence of him performing at Origin level, we all know he's got the talent but he was able to show that at an elite level and the confidence he's brought back to us at the Roosters, it's just great to see, he's a kid who just loves playing footy," Tedesco said.
"You give him the ball he can create something out of nothing.
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"He had a really strong pre-season and all the boys were talking about how fit he was and how strong he was looking in the gym. He's probably realised he can use his strength and his speed to beat anyone and it's been great to give him early ball and watch him do what he does."
The Roosters will again be without five-eighth Luke Keary as the former Rabbitoh recovers from a knee injury - they only just hung on against the 15th-placed Cowboys last week without him.
"It's a big loss missing Keary there but I think Matto [stand-in five-eighth Ryan Matterson] did a great job and I tried to play my role as well so I think it balanced itself out," Tedesco said.