Cook reveals McCullough role in freak transition
FOUR years ago, when Damien Cook made a career-defining move to hooker, he began studying the most established dummy-halves in the NRL.
His Origin and club opposite on Thursday night, Queensland incumbent and Brisbane hooker Andrew McCullough, was one of them.
Buried beneath the headlines of Wayne Bennett v Anthony Seibold on Thursday night is a State of Origin appetiser that has emerged without notice between Cook and McCullough.
The match-up represents a preview to the main event of Origin I in Brisbane in just five weeks time.
Cook has played just 81 games in his career, shifting from almost every position in the backline as a rookie before making a permanent move to hooker with Canterbury in 2015.
And it's McCullough, who has played 243-games over a career with the Broncos which is in its 11th season, who Cook watched replay after replay of, during his formative years.
"I enjoy coming up against the good hookers of the game an he's (McCullough) one of them,'' Cook said of the match-up.
"He's (McCullough) played a lot more games than I have and I remember watching him (early on), trying to learn from different hookers and he was one of them.
"Up there (Brisbane), they've got two ball runners, obviously not Kodi Nikorima (injured) at the moment, but him and Anthony Milford are both there as ball runners and I can see that McCullough has had a big role up there to control the middle.
"And game management would've also been a big thing for him, and that's something he does really well.
"I think he's very underrated. He does his job very well and I'm looking forward to the contest.''
Key to the Rabbitohs promising start to the season, Cook is just as vital to NSW coach Brad Fittler's Origin plans for 2019.
In a breakout season last year, Cook thrived for the Blues - seemingly playing without the nerves or tension that have brought so many quality players undone.
As frightening to the Maroons camp as it sounds, the 27-year-old is better for the experience ahead of another Origin series.
Mentally he's sharper, boasting the pre-game management to handle the build-up and hype of Origin.
"I probably learnt from last year what worked for me was not worrying about any of the talk or any of the outside noise for Origin,'' Cook said.
"I realised that if I'm doing a good job at club level and doing what needs to be done, that's what got me there.
"That's the good thing I know going into this year, I'm able to put that (Origin) to the back of my mind where I'm not really worried about any of it.
"Instead, I just keep doing what I need to do and hopefully that representative stuff takes care of itself.
"And if it doesn't I'll just keep doing my job for Souths.''
Cook said he was under no illusion as to what Thursday night's battle against a brash, raw and powerful young Broncos pack will look like.
"They are a big enthusiastic pack and they are young too and if we let them run and get their confidence up, you've seen what they can do to teams,'' Cook said.
"We saw what Pangai did to Taumalolo a couple of weeks ago and the way they played against the Sharks, their backs were allowed to benefit from the impact those forward's had through the middle.
Asked if he felt Thursday night was an opportunity to expose the Broncos young, tiring forward's at the back-end of each half, Cook said: "What I've been trying to do is work on being more patient and not having those wasted runs - picking the right time.
"So sometimes it is just waiting on my time and helping in other areas.
"But hopefully a few opportunities present themselves.''