Rabbitohs hooker Damien Cook won’t give up his Australian No.9 jersey without a fight and has vowed to use the NRL finals to convince Mal Meninga that he is still the best man for the job at the World Cup.
Cook returns in Sunday’s sudden death final against Sydney Roosters after a two week lay-off due to COVID and he knows that every match Souths win enhances his hopes of making the 24-man World Cup squad.
The 31-year-old took over the Australian hooking role after the retirement of Cameron Smith but due to border restrictions the Kangaroos have only played four Tests since the 2017 World Cup final.
During that period Cook has played every Origin for NSW and barely missed an NRL match but he faces intense competition for his Australian jersey, with Meninga recently stating five hookers were vying for two spots.
Among them are Panthers hooker Api Koroisau, who started in Origin II and III in place of Cook, who was used from the interchange bench by Blues coach Brad Fittler.
Dragons captain Ben Hunt and Storm hooker Harry Grant worked in tandem for Queensland and many believe Meninga should use the same tactic, while he nominated Cowboys No.9 Reece Robson as a contender.
“I would love to go over to England, it would be a dream come true to play in the World Cup,” Cook said.
“Obviously, we have got a bit of footy to play before it starts. But that is one goal I would love to tick off. It has been on my list for a long time.
“It has been great so far so hopefully I can continue to play some great footy and if I get selected to go over there it would be a dream come true to represent Australia in a World Cup. There is no bigger stage.”
Cook and Tedesco combine
Cook plays 80 minutes nearly every week for Souths but insists he didn’t mind sharing the role in Origin with Koroisau, who has been selected in the Fiji squad and given a deadline to choose his World Cup allegiance.
If he had to form a similar combination with Hunt or Grant in the Australian team Cook said he would be happy to do so.
“I don’t mind sharing it at all,” he said. “There have been plenty of games where I have played the whole game myself, and Api is obviously playing some great footy as well.
“That is the way we went this year in the Origin series and it worked pretty well.”
The return of Cook for the clash with the Roosters is a massive boost for the Rabbitohs as he has a strong combination with star playmaker Cody Walker and fullback Latrell Mitchell.
“He is obviously a very experienced hooker, he adds another threat through the middle of the park, he us quite dangerous when he gets out and brings his forwards onto the footy,” Walker said.
“Defensively, he works tirelessly and he plays 80 minutes, so he is very important to our team.”
Damien Cook all smiles
While disappointed to miss the 20-10 defeat of the Cowboys and 26-16 loss to the Roosters last weekend, Cook was able to spend time with his wife and two children, daughter Willow and new-born son Jagger.
However, after returning to training this week Cook is now focused on helping the Rabbitohs try to better last year's grand final loss to Penrith and retaining his Kangaroos jersey for the World Cup.
“It’s been hard watching from home and the sidelines but I can’t wait to get back to training and do everything we need to do as a team to go one step further this year,” he said. “I can’t wait for finals footy, it’s the best time of the year.”