Rabbitohs hooker Damien Cook has revealed how a heart-to-heart with new coach Wayne Bennett instilled the self-belief to expand his attacking range and become one of the most influential players in the Telstra Premiership.
Cook's running game made him an NRL regular for the first time last season and propelled him to representative honours with NSW and Australia but under Bennett he has improved even further.
He laid on three tries in the opening 22 minutes in Sunday's 32-16 defeat of the Cowboys to close out Magic Round and scored one himself – his first of the year – early in the second term to quell any prospect of a North Queensland comeback.
In the entire 2018 season Cook was credited with eight try assists but through nine rounds this year he has already been responsible for 11 and told NRL.com that he set out to offer more from his first meeting with Bennett.
"The first thing he said to me was, 'I believe I can grow your game and I see a lot of improvement in you'," Cook revealed.
"That's something that I wanted to hear, having a different set of eyes come in after last year.
Match Highlights: Rabbitohs v Cowboys
"Being my first year as the starting nine last year I had a very simple game plan and at the end of it I wanted to make sure I was helping the other guys out.
"It's about taking my opportunities and picking the right time.”
Having prepared his Broncos team to face Cook twice last season Bennett was aware of the danger he posed from dummy-half and was eager to find ways for the rake to play before the line as well as through it.
Cook and Burgess combine
"I knew he was quick out of dummy-half because I'd coached against him twice last year and we made sure he wasn't quick out of dummy-half against us,” Bennett said after his side scored their eighth win of the season.
"I think he's game has developed really good this year. He doesn't have to continually make line breaks, he's doing things before the line now and he's still got the line breaks.
Cook continues sharp start
"He's got a lot of options in his game right now. He's an absolute threat to everybody.
"He trains hard and you see him play hard out there for 80 minutes. [Michael] Morgan put a chip kick in with five minutes to go and everybody else in the ground was just about exhausted but he found the energy to get back and clean it up.
"He plays 80 minutes every week and will train as hard as anybody else all week. I like what he’s doing."
Cook’s early onslaught that led to tries to Sam Burgess, Cameron Murray and Kyle Turner essentially put the game out of reach for North Queensland and Cowboys coach Paul Green was also impressed by how the 27-year-old dictated proceedings.
"He took his opportunities well and when he did get out we didn’t handle it the way we had practised to handle it," Green said.