Damien Cook is in the pressure cooker after his underwhelming start to the 2022 season, as the winless South Sydney Rabbitohs continue to struggle getting the best out of their international dummy-half.
It would be fair to say Cook has lost his spark over the 18-months, despite helping his side reach last year’s grand final. In 2021, he averaged just 67 running metres per game – a big drop from previous seasons.
Statistics aside, his decision making on knowing when to run and when to create in recent times may suggest he is not as sharp as he once was. In his prime from 2018-2020, Cook was so potent out of dummy-half that some suggested he had surpassed Cameron Smith as the game’s number one hooker.
Cook turns 31-years-old in June and perhaps the most logical explanation for his dip in form, is fatigue.
Since 2016, he has rarely missed any games to injury or suspension. He has predominantly been an 80-minute hooker and averaged close to 50 tackles per game.
Regardless of how physically fit he may look, the workload of the past six years which also includes representative football, must be taking its toll on the aging rake.Embed from Getty Images
Perhaps the time has come for new coach Jason Demetriou to accept his star no.9 is no longer an 80-minute hooker.
Demetriou should look at adopting a ‘less is more’ approach to help him regain that spark and energy out of dummy-half.
The Rabbitohs would benefit greatly by managing Cook’s workload during games and with the addition of utility Siliva Havili to Souths’ roster, it is an opportunity for Demetriou to rotate his dummy-halves and reduce Cook’s minutes.
A blueprint could be to rotate Cook with Havili around the 35-minute mark, then inject a rested Cook back into the game around the 55–60-minute mark to run rings around tired defenders.
Most clubs rotate their dummy-halves, but most clubs do not have a dummy-half of Damien Cook’s ilk.
With Adam Reynolds having moved on from the club, the Rabbitohs need their experienced players to step up and take ownership of their attack, especially at the backend of games.
They need their playmakers to be decisive with their decision making and a fatigued Cook is not producing what the Rabbitohs need from him. It is the reason why he was taken from the field with 10-minutes to go in their narrow round-two loss to the Storm in Melbourne.
Had Cook been rotated and rested, then brought back on with 20-minutes to go with a clear focus on his role and what the team needs, the Rabbitohs could have won that match against a Storm side that was clearly on the back-foot.
A physically and mentally fresh Cook coming on for his second stint towards the backend of games will also help take the pressure off Cody Walker and rookie halfback Lachlan Ilias when games are on the line.
By taking the ‘less is more’ approach with Cook, it may not only help him rediscover his potency in attack with both his running game and playmaking ability, but it may also minimize the risk of burnout and prolong his career at NRL level.