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Cook, Koroisau put rivalry aside in Blues camp

The term "friendly rivalry" has been given a whole new meaning in the NSW camp ahead of Sunday's State of Origin game two clash in Brisbane thanks to Damien Cook.

Instead of looking over his shoulder, Cook has embraced rival rake Api Koroisau's presence in the Blues squad as a chance to improve his game, even asking for half-time tips from the Penrith star during their 50-6 series opening demolition of Queensland.

Not so long ago Cook looked like he needed all the helpful hints he could get.

Ex-NSW coach Phil Gould and Maroons great Cameron Smith were among those calling for NSW selectors to axe Cook for the first time since the South Sydney hooker's 2018 Origin debut and pick Koroisau after Penrith's blistering NRL season start.

The writing appeared to be on the wall after Koroisau outpointed Cook in the Panthers' 56-12 NRL romp over the Rabbitohs on May 23 – barely two weeks before the Origin series opener.

Cook ultimately got the Origin I nod from loyal Blues coach Brad Fittler but there appeared to be no relief in sight for the South Sydney No.9 with Koroisau ever-present at NSW camp as 18th man.

But Cook could only see the positive side of having the Panthers livewire on standby for NSW – a role Koroisau will again play for game two at Suncorp Stadium.

Cook jumps out to send Saifiti crashing over

"I have really enjoyed having Api involved at the camp," Cook told NRL.com.

"He deserves to be here just as much as I do.

"I have been chatting to him, even at half-time in the first game, asking him what he sees.

"We are all here to do what is best for the team and he has been very helpful to my game.

"The competition for spots brings out the best in everyone and gives our team the best chance to win."

Whatever Koroisau has been saying appears to be working.

Cook was an early spark for NSW in their eight-tries-to-one Origin I rout in Townsville, making a break up the middle to help set up rookie Brian To'o's opening four-pointer before the floodgates opened.

Indeed Cook appears to be in a better place as the Blues look to claim their third Origin series win in four years with a rare Suncorp Stadium victory on Sunday.

But Cook claimed he never lost sleep over speculation about his Origin spot before game one.

"I was just worried about playing good footy for South Sydney," he said.

"Obviously there have been a couple of slip up games at Souths and Penrith have been playing great footy for a long time, that's why they have got so many Panthers players in the NSW team.

"But I know what Freddy [Fittler] looks for – doing a good job for your team, and I feel like I had been doing that."

Maroons v Blues - Origin II

Incumbent Test No.9 Cook also appeared to be facing competition on the representative front from Queensland rival Harry Grant during the Origin series.

However, Melbourne young gun Grant has been ruled out of game two after suffering another hamstring complaint.

Cook admitted Grant's injury was a blow for the Maroons but expected to be kept honest by replacement rake, St George Illawarra's 31-year-old Andrew McCullough, who will play his first Origin since 2018.

"Harry has been playing great footy, and done a good job in a short time for Queensland – it is a blow to lose a player of his calibre," Cook said.

"But he [McCullough] is someone who is great in defence, solid in the middle and he's got a lot of experience – he is a great addition to their forward pack for this game."

 

Origin II in Brisbane is sold out but tickets are still on sale for game three at Stadium Australia in Sydney on July 14 - get your tickets at NRL.com/tickets.

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