Damien Cook, a whore from south Sydney, refuses to let his duel with Penrith’s Api Koroisau for a World Cup spot distract him from helping the Rabbitohs avenge last year’s big finals defeat
Cook and Koroisau will meet next Saturday night in the group stage final at the Accor stadium in what is effectively a selection process between the NSW team-mates for one of two specialized hook spots in Mal Meninga’s 24-man Australia squad.
With the Kangaroos squad being named after the grand final, the No.9, who plays on next weekend’s winning team, has one last chance to impress and Cook is desperate for the Rabbitohs to recover from last year’s 14-12 loss to Penrith in the Premiership decision makers take revenge.
Game Highlights: Panthers vs. Rabbitohs
“It’s an opportunity we missed to win a big final and that’s why you’re playing this great game,” Cook said after Saturday night’s 38-12 semi-final win over Cronulla at the Allianz Stadium. “We have to use this experience from the past to motivate us for the future.
“After the game we didn’t jump around and make fun of how excited we are because the work isn’t done yet.
“I think we now understand what it takes to win a grand final and we also understand what it feels like to win and lose a preliminary final.”
The Rabbitohs have been involved in the penultimate game of the season for the past five years, but only made it into the grand final in 2021.
As well as beating them in last year’s Premiership playoff, the Panthers eliminated Souths in the 2020 pre-finals before losing the grand final to Melbourne.
The Rabbitohs, however, are drawing confidence from their 16-10 win over Penrith in last year’s qualifiers and believe they have the attacking style to put the Panthers in trouble if they can maintain discipline and keep the defense going strong in the opening fortnight has lost only 26 points of the playoffs.
“Everyone is beatable but with a team like Penrith or The Storm in the past you have to play your best footy to beat them,” Cook said.
“We did that last year in round one of the semifinals. We got out of the yardage very well and were very disciplined not to give them easy opportunities to get out of our end area.
“Penrith are a quality team, they are obviously the best team in recent years and to beat them we have to be better than we were against the Sharks.
“We can’t give up slight errors and field positions because Nathan [Cleary] and Jarome [Luai] will lock us up our end and do what they did to us in the grand finale.
With Cleary and Luai among the seven members of the Panthers team in the NSW team for this year’s Origin series, Cook has some insight into their playstyle.
Koroisau was also in the Blues roster and won the seed in Origin II and III with Cook coming off the bench.
Despite being the reigning Kangaroos hooker, Cook now faces a jersey fight as Ben Hunt and Harry Grant effectively played in tandem for Queensland in Origin and Meninga is expected to add just one more hooker to his World Cup roster.
“Everyone wants to play in the World Cup, everyone wants to play representative, it’s the greatest honor in our game to wear that green and gold jersey but that’s only after the season is over,” Cook said.
“We’ve got a big game coming up and winning a big final is something we want to do here, so I just want to make sure we get the job done, have a great week of practice, win that preliminary round and get to the finals and do our best.”