Blues urged not to axe besieged Test hooker

NSW should show loyalty to Test hooker Damien Cook and stick with him for the State of Origin series opener, says former Blues halfback Brett Finch.

Though Cook’s form has dipped somewhat, Finch said that the Rabbitohs No.9 should be retained in the NSW spine with incumbent fullback James Tedesco, plus Panthers halves Jarome Luai and Nathan Cleary.

Penrith hooker Apisai Koroisau has been touted to unseat Cook by legendary NSW coach Phil Gould, yet Finch urged the Blues to stick tight.

“I think Damien Cook stays there, he’s the Australian hooker and someone who’s played really well at Origin,” Finch told Wide World of Sports.

“While their last couple of weeks have been a bit rough against Melbourne and Penrith, South Sydney, they’re in the top four and they won seven straight there at one stage.

“I think Cooky stays there, Api’s only been back a few weeks, so to unseat the Australian hooker would be a pretty big call. I’d stay with Cooky, I’d have the Penrith boys at six and seven and then have Tedesco at fullback.”

Finch played three Origins, the victim of what he branded a “f–king ridiculous” churn in the NSW halves during Queensland’s dynasty.

He said that Koroisau, who has played just five NRL games this season due to injury, had not done enough to justify unseating a player of Cook’s standing. Cook has played nine games for the Blues, won two series and built a strong combination with Tedesco.

“I don’t think Api’s killed it. Api’s played well but it’s not like he’s set the house on fire. He’s only just been back,” Finch said.

“By the end of the year it might be different for the Australian team, obviously there’s Harry Grant who’ll push for selection as well.

“I think Cook deserves it, he’s been very good for NSW. Sometimes it’s harder to get out of these teams than get in.

“He’s done the job for Freddy (NSW coach Brad Fittler) before, he’s the Australian hooker. At the moment, he’s the No.1 hooker in Australia, so I think you’ve got to stick with him.

“While they’ve had a tough couple of weeks, I think his form so far this year’s been pretty good.”

Finch said that Luai deserved an Origin debut in the halves, given his excellent play for the unbeaten Panthers.

“I’d go with the Penrith boys, their form’s just been too good,” he said.

“I don’t think you could go wrong with Jack Wighton either. We saw him come in a couple of years ago and play centre for game two and do a great job.

“Jack Wighton would do a good job [at five-eighth] but I just think the form of Luai and Cleary deserves to be there, they’ve been superb now for 18 months. This year, they seem to get better and better every week.

“Picking on form, the Penrith boys have been by far and away the best.”

Fittler is reportedly leaning towards naming Wighton at five-eighth, which would leave Luai waiting for his debut.

Wighton is more versatile, meaning there’s some chance he could play in the centres, at edge back-row or as a bench utility if Fittler opted for Luai at No.6.

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