No mind games, no misdirection, no train-offs during camp – a brief conversation with Brad Fittler was all it took.
Damien Cook has revealed Fittler gathered he and new starting hooker Api Koroisau to clear the air as the first order of business in camp for Origin II.
“Once we got into camp, the next morning he just grabbed Api and myself and was pretty straight up about what we’re doing,” Cook told Wide World of Sports.
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“We’re going to go with two hookers and Api was going to start, and that’s all that was really spoken about.
“We both just moved on with what we need to get done for this week and what our jobs will be to work together for whatever it takes to get the win.”
Cook was moved to the bench to accommodate Penrith’s Api Koroisau in the starting team, with the Blues opting for a two hooker rotation in Perth.
“I was more than happy for Api – he’s been playing some really good footy and he’s been nothing but supportive of me while we’ve been in camp,” Cook said.
“I love training alongside him, he’s someone I watch as a hooker and love what he does as well – I know he’s going to go out there and do a good job and it’s my turn to back him up whenever I can.
“He’s got great deception around the ruck. He plays with a lot of time and I feel like he’ll manipulate the markers a lot and he’ll have combinations out there to start the game with Yo-ee (Isaah Yeo) and the halves as well.”
The addition of Koroisau means that three-quarters of the playmaking positions are now Panthers, along with James Tedesco.
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“Between that spine, with Teddy as well, I think we can get off to a really good start and hopefully when I come on we’re in a good position, which I’m sure we will be,” Cook said.
Changes were always going to come after a disappointing loss in the Origin opener, but Cook is remaining upbeat.
“It’s been pretty spoken about how we just lost the ruck. We fought hard the whole game, just running out of time there – who knows what could have happened with even five extra seconds?” Cook said.
“So there’s some good signs there but we need some improvements, and the big one’s the ruck. They did really well and that’s why the likes of Ben Hunt and Harry got to have some joy off the back of that.”
Both Andrew Johns and Paul Gallen backed Cook to come on and play the ‘Craig Wing role’ for the Blues – a part he said he’d gladly play.
“We’ve got best-case scenarios [for when I come on] that we can work off but you never know how that game’s going to go. There could be injuries in other positions, but hopefully not,” Cook said.
“For me coming off the bench it’s just going to be really important to come on and change the game, bring that energy for the big boys and make sure they get good service.”
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It’s worth nothing that he’s got plenty of experience coming off the bench – before he was Damien Cook, Origin and international hooker, he was the change-of-pace option at the Rabbitohs behind the likes of Cameron McInnes and Robbie Farah. He finally locked down the No.9 jersey in 2018.
“One thing you learn from coming off the bench in a few games is that you don’t want to overdo things and overplay your hand,” he said.
“You want to make sure you stay calm and still make the right decisions while making an impact at the same time.”
Cook made his Origin debut that same year in Brad Fittler’s first series as coach, and along with Tedesco is the only man to play in every Blues team since.
“It’s crazy to think that I’ve played all those games under him, and I’m very grateful that he’s put that trust in me to be here – but you still pinch yourself every time you get asked to come back in here, no matter what jersey number you’re wearing.
“This is the fifth season now and it’s pretty special – I still don’t get much time to look back on it and reflect.”
For any Origin calibre player, health and fitness is critical, and Cook revealed he has a secret weapon to keep him in tip top shape.
“Nutrition’s really important for me – in camp you’re very well looked after so at home I’m lucky I’ve got those My Muscle Chef meals, you just put them in the microwave for 90 seconds and you’re ready to go,” Cook said.
“But other than that I’ve just got to prep as best I can to come out the other side of this Origin period, still playing really good footy.”
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