More than pace: Cook open to evolving his game
While South Sydney hooker Damien Cook isn't looking to change his game in the middle of a finals series, he is open to adapting his game in the future with an eye on the game-management and longevity of players like Cameron Smith.
Cook has been one of the form players of the 2018 Telstra Premiership season and through a successful NSW Origin campaign and he was recently voted this year's best in an NRL.com fan poll that garnered over 50,000 responses.
That has largely come off the back of his damaging running game but Cook's crisp service to get his forwards rolling and his halves some nice early ball, as well as his reliable defence across 80 minutes and more than 40 tackles per game.
In a recent column for NRL.com, Craig Wing – a star dummy-half himself for the Rabbitohs, Roosters and Blues as well as a veteran of 16 Tests for Australia – said he hoped Cook learned from Wing's mistakes and added more strings to his bow as a game manager before his pace and explosiveness started to fade.
Quizzed on Wing's advice, Cook said he was flattered to be compared to the club legend and keen to evolve his game in the future.
"Craig Wing was someone I loved watching growing up and to be compared to him, it's good news to hear because I loved watching him play and I'd love to work with him too," Cook said.
"I'm always open to learning and I will be trying to improve my game every year and every week but in saying that, I've got to do my job within this team.
"We've got certain structures we follow and sometimes it's not up to me to dictate around the way we play.
"We aren't just through the middle, five hit-ups for a kick too much at the moment. Sometimes it goes to that but whatever my job is at the time for the team, that's what I'll do.
"Sometimes I'll have some good running games and sometimes I have to focus on other parts of my game where the running opportunities might not be there so I have to worry about good service and trying to get the boys rolling through the ruck but it's definitely something I want to improve as well.
"Game management is something that's done very well by the good hookers of the game like Cam Smith. I'll always be looking to improve and if that's something people see, and obviously he's a great ex-player of this game so I'm more than open to improvement in certain areas and that's something I'll have to adapt over the next few years."
In the immediate term, Cook said he felt fresh despite a gruelling season due to the excitement of hitting the finals series.
"[The energy levels are] good. When finals start I think you get that excitement even more, you try not to look forward but you realise if the team can win three or four games in a row you win the comp and it shows, all that hard work you put in through the season," Cook said.
He said he watched the Dragons' demolition of Brisbane last Sunday and wasn't surprised to see them hitting form for the finals.
"The Dragons have copped a bit of flak over the past few weeks but they've definitely got the team to do it on paper and they showed [against Brisbane] they can do it and got back to their best footy so it's going to be a good game on Saturday," he said.
"They're missing Gareth [Widdop] who I rate very highly as a player, one of the best in the comp this year, obviously they're going to miss him but they've had some time to deal with that with the weeks he didn't play before the finals. No doubt they'll take a lot of confidence out of that. If Kurt Mann is to play in the halves, he does a great job."
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