NRL 2019: South Sydney star Damien Cook's perfect NSW Origin tune-up


Damien Cook could not ask for a better way to round out his Origin preparations than by trying to stop English and Canberra superstar Josh Hodgson - the man regarded by some in the game as equal to Cameron Smith - followed by his one-time mentor Robbie Farah.

The South Sydney No.9 and NSW incumbent is already in sublime touch and the next fortnight will only help keep him right on his toes ahead of the first Queensland stoush.

Examination: Damien Cook knows he needs to be ready for a tough fortnight ahead.

Examination: Damien Cook knows he needs to be ready for a tough fortnight ahead.Credit:AAP

Cook also spoke glowingly about his combination with Souths halves Adam Reynolds and Cody Walker, who are right in the frame to join him in the Blues spine, and who would often get angry if he didn't fire them the ball.

Ahead of Saturday's trip to the nation's capital, Cook told the Herald about his showdown with Hodgson: "Josh is playing some really good footy, he has a lovely style of play and he's one of the best if not the best at the moment along with Cameron.

"If I'm watching Canberra it's because I like watching him. He's tough and his game is getting better each year.

"I also love playing against Robbie because we had time to train together [at Souths] and we're good mates off the field as well.

"He's done everything that I want to do in the game. I have a lot of respect for him and always look forward to those battles.''

Souths coach Wayne Bennett knows Hodgson's game well from their time together in England, as does Sam Burgess, and Cook will lean on the supercoach and his skipper for pointers as Souths go in search of nine wins from 10 starts in 2019.

Cook was brilliant against North Queensland last Sunday afternoon and admits he could not be happier with his own form. It was only about this time last year he rocketed past Cameron McInnes in the race for NSW's No. 9 jersey.

Cutting out the 'dead runs' has been something he's often spoken about, while Bennett also backed him to take the pressure off Reynolds and Walker's kicking games.

"We have two confident halves calling the ball and then sometimes I have to go against them,'' Cook said.

Cook enjoys watching Canberra counterpart Josh Hodgson (centre).

Cook enjoys watching Canberra counterpart Josh Hodgson (centre).Credit:Canberra Times

"I have a lot of respect for them and they know what they're doing, so I like to give them the ball when they want it. That's something we have been building in our combination.

"If they don't get the ball 'Reyno' will let me know his thoughts on the run. Cody gets the shits, too. But that's what I love, I love that they're so competitive. It's not a bad position to be in when they're both calling for the ball.''

Cook would love to see his Souths mates pull on the NSW sky blue jersey. He was also mindful not to downplay the efforts of incumbents Nathan Cleary and James Maloney, who got the job done against Queensland last year.

"Reyno has been there before and did a great job before he was injured,'' Cook said.

"And Cody is a footballer, a competitor, and you could put him in any situation and he'd get the job done. He's built for it. He turns those half chances into something - and you need to take your half chances in Origin.''

Cameron Murray is more of a NSW certainty than Reynolds and Walker and Cook said of the young Souths lock forward: "He's built for Origin, he's smart, he knows how to use his size, strength and footwork against the bigger players. He's one of the best defenders in the competition and he has a great engine.

"If we didn't have such a versatile pack at Souths he'd be out there for 80 minutes. Whenever his time comes [to play Origin] he'll make it his for a long time.''