Freakish numbers behind Cook’s huge year
FROM beach sprinting star to NRL ironman. No forward has played more minutes than Damien Cook this year. And by the end of Saturday's Test against Tonga he will have made more tackles than any player in 2018.
Cook has become rugby league's new ironman following a breakthrough season which has included Kangaroos and NSW appearances for the first time.
His Test against Tonga will be his 30th game this year - four more than his combined appearances in his first four seasons in the top grade.
Cook's secret has been his commitment to recovery. After each captain's run he spends three minutes doing cryotherapy (ice bath), followed by a 45-minute session in float tank before sitting in recovery boots for 30 minutes.
"This year I have taken recovery a lot more serious," Cook said. "It's the first year I've had to play a full season, 80 minutes every week. I knew recovery was going to be important.
"I've made all those three things my routine after captain's run to make sure my body has been in the best possible state.
"I walk out of there feeling a lot better and refreshed."
Only Kangaroo teammates Valentine Holmes, Dane Gagai and James Tedesco have played more than Cook's 2292 minutes while he needs just 18 tackles to pass Jake Friend's 1148 season-high tackle count.
With his Origin appearance came an extra workload which Cook said left him mentally fatigued.
"Going into the start of the season I was feeling good," Cook said. "I was in the best shape I've been.
"Once I got to Origin obviously my loads were up. Coming back from Origin I was excited to get back to club level and repay the boys who had helped me get there.
"It was the first game I came back (after Origin) against the Bulldogs. My mindset was good but my body ... it was a tough game to get through. Then we had a couple of losses and it all caught up with me.
" I probably underestimated the Origin hangover. But the club gave me a few personal days to take off and just get away from footy a little bit and looked after our loads.
"I don't feel like it affected me but I was run down at times."
Cook, who delayed his wedding to make his Kangaroos debut, is yet to stop and reflect on his rise.
His emergence as Australia's best hooker is a remarkable feat considering Cook was locked in a battle for the No.9 jersey at South Sydney having averaged just 46 minutes per game last year and just two years ago he looked destined to become a rugby league journeyman.
"It's been a very enjoyable year," Cook said. "Being able to tick off a few goals I probably didn't think would happen this soon has been something special.
"I rocked up to pre-season with a few goals, the main one was to train really hard and get the starting spot in round one."
He will head into next year off-contract and as a marked man. Teams worked out if they could shut down South Sydney's forward pack they would go a long way to nullifying Cook's impact.
But Cook is adamant his game can evolve.
"I might change a couple of little things," Cook said. "I'll try and improve my preparation and recovery as well and invest in myself, buying things to help my recovery.
"I've had a few good games where I've had some big running metres but that is not always going to happen.
"So I need to make sure when I don't have those big games where I don't run for many metres my defence and execution is on. Moving forward I want to take the opportunities when I can but I need to make sure the other parts of my games are spot on when the other parts of my game don't go where I don't want them to go.
"Last year because of my (inconsistent) minutes, I got caught out trying to do too much at certain times. If I got limited minutes I was trying to do a lot which was worse for my game."
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