Former NSW selection adviser Peter Sterling has warned star hooker Damien Cook he is risking his spot in the Blues side after a sluggish return for the Rabbitohs following the COVID-19 enforced layoff.
After two years of outstanding form that rocketed him into the ‘elite’ category and secured him the NSW and Australia No.9 jerseys, Cook has been indifferent for much of the 2020 season.
His form has been reflected in the Rabbitohs‘ ladder position, with Wayne Bennett’s men still to hit their stride as they sit ninth in the competition, with a ‘four-point game’ coming up this Friday night against likely rivals for a position in this season’s playoffs, the eighth-placed Wests Tigers.
Cook’s dip in performance comes at an interesting time, given many expected the faster rucks, due to the new six-again rule, to suit his explosive dummy half running.
“I think you’ve got to say Damien Cook hasn’t jumped out of the blocks completely,” Sterling told Wide World of Sports’ Sterlo’s Wrap when asked if NSW coach Brad Fittler would be considering other options for his No.9.
“We all thought that the new changes around the ruck area would certainly suit Damien Cook. South Sydney haven’t been going that well, so maybe Damien is paying the price for the fact that the side aren’t going particularly well.”
So far under the new rules it’s been young Tigers hooker Harry Grant who has led the way, currently sitting second on the Dally M leaderboard, while Cameron Smith has also been in vintage form.
But knocking on the door of Blues honours, according to Sterling, is Penrith recruit Apisai Koroisau, who has been instrumental in the Panthers’ outstanding start to the season.
“Api has been a great buy, what he’s doing through the middle there in taking his forwards forward for the Penrith side, and we keep talking about the mobility of the side, is what’s making it very easy for Nathan Cleary to operate,” Sterling said.
“Nathan Cleary, we keep talking about how well he’s going, he’ll probably be the halfback and they look at combinations, club combinations [when picking an Origin side].”
With his side sitting on six wins after eight matches, Koroisau is flying at his new club, with the attacking structures set up by assistant coach Trent Barrett suiting him to a tee.
Koroisau has seven Dally M points so far this year, making him the second-most influential player on the Panthers side, with Cleary the only teammate sitting above him, according to those adjudicators.
Continued team success for Penrith could force Fittler’s hand, with the NSW coach previously admitting the schedule, which sees the Origin series played after the grand final this year, will impact on selection, with players from teams that go deep into the playoffs at an advantage.
However, Cook has been a mainstay of Fittler’s Blues sides, featuring in all six games since the champion five-eighth took over from former coach Laurie Daley. Loyalty to the incumbents will also play its role.
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