Damien Cook Rabbitohs' Highlights
There is no arguing that 2018 was a breakout season for Rabbitohs, Blues and Australian hooker Damien Cook.
As he played his pivotal role in the Rabbitohs' march towards the Finals, accolades and superlatives were laid on thick with phrases and praises such as 'stellar season', 'blistering pace', 'destructive' and 'dynamic' becoming synonymous with the number 9's on-field performances.
This terminology was justified time and time again as Cook carved up his opposition, first for Club, but then, of course, his State and Country.
Yet, for all of these compliments, a fast approaching 2019 season and with the ink yet to dry on a four-year contract extension with the most successful Rugby League club in the world, the two words that best sum up what has propelled Damien Cook to the forefront of the Rugby League sphere are 'perseverance' and 'determination'.
In a League with superstars competing on representative stages while still in their teens, or gracing the Sydney Cricket Ground on debut while studying for their HSC, 27-year-old Damien Cook has taken a less direct path to NRL stardom.
He has said that he can name the many players he's had to compete within ten seconds; Mitch Rein, Cameron King, Mick Ennis, Michael Lichaa, Cameron McInnes and of course Robbie Farah; all teammates of Cook's vying, and often times winning, a starting spot that he was determined to make his own.
As another name on the depth chart, Cook has never shied away from competing with his teammates. Every time he started in a reserve grade team or came into a match from the bench, he was determined to make an impact, and he never lost hope that he would one day arrive as an established NRL hooker.
"I've always been in competition with other hookers and it brings the best out in me and makes me want to keep bettering myself."Damien Cook South Sydney Rabbitohs Hooker
Now, looking back on a fantastic 2018 campaign, it is easy to forget that this was a reality for the Australian number nine as fought so hard to establish an NRL career. Yet in January this year, Damien's goals for the season were much more pragmatic than what he would eventually go on to achieve. He simply wanted to hold onto the starting hooker position, yet he achieved so much more.
"I obviously do want to be the number one hooker and will keep working on what I need to do and hopefully hold that position," - Cook's words following a 60-minute stint for the Rabbitohs against Wigan in the first trial match of the season.
Cook will tell you that this path has defined his character, that the perseverance he has learned through constant competition has led him to where he is today. Speaking before his State of Origin debut, he admitted as much;
"It's definitely been a bit of a roller-coaster, and something that has probably built my character over time. I don't know any other way. There are some freakish players out there that manage to go straight from '20s and become stars in the NRL and some people who have got to do it a different way," Cook said.
"You've just got to keep pursuing your dream and stick at it."
And stick at it he did.
Cook's trophy cabinet is far more crowded than it was twelve months ago, with a George Piggins Medal for Rabbitohs best and fairest player in his keeping, joining names like Sutton, Inglis, Burgess, Merritt and Luke, alongside his Dally M Hooker of the Year award, just to name a few.
The beach sprint champion from Helensburgh will likely feel more comfortable now that the starting jumper will have his name on it when the beginning of the season rolls around.
But it is those traits developed through his long apprenticeship, an ingrained competitive spirit forged through perseverance and determination, that have some good judges saying that Cook could become an all-time great.
Rabbitohs Members can rejoice in the knowledge that Damien Cook will work towards that status, with trademark determination and perseverance wearing the Red and Green, at least for the next five seasons.