Wayne Bennett’s first real move since joining the Rabbitohs was to sign Damien Cook to a long-term contract at the club.
The deal, worth a supposed $4.5 million over five years, ensures that the current Australia and Origin number nine will be at the club until the end of 2023 at least.
The monster deal has put an end to the speculation that would have gathered momentum with every day a contract remained un-signed, that Cook could be persuaded to shift clubs.
With Cam Smith entering the final year(s) of his career, it’s arguable that Cook is now the game’s premier number nine.
His running out in green and gold with the No.9 across his back puts him in elite company, with perhaps only Canberra’s Josh Hodgson in the argument.
The current Dally M hooker of the year attracted reported massive offers elsewhere, with the likes of the Knights and Eels linked.
Truthfully I thought Cook was a near certainty to win the Dally M award last season after a brilliant season for both the Bunnies and the Blues. I even named him Zero Tackle’s player of the year and believe he was, at worst, the second best player in his debut Origin series.
I was really surprised to see negativity follow the announcement of his new deal across social media.
If I were the Bunnies I would have moved heaven and earth to ensure the number one No.9 in the game stayed in red and green for the rest of his career.
That said, there are a few factors that warrant discussion as to whether or not this deal is a potential mistake.
The argument against the deal
Most of the talk against the mega deal seems to come via comparisons to ‘similar’ style number nines and their inability to continue their progress after a career-best year.
Some have pointed to the fact that running dummy halves such as James Segeyaro and Jake Granville were ‘found out’ once their game plan was worked out and defensive adjustments made.
Cook was much less influential toward the second half of the season due to natural fatigue and the supposed end of the penalty blitz crack down.
When the ruck was being scrutinised to extremes, Cook was able to bust holes in the defence was incredible ease.
The thinking is that opposition coaches are now prepared and can instruct their players to defend accordingly.
There’s also the fact that Cook is now 27 years of age. He’s not old by any stretch, especially given the late start to his first grade career, so I don’t really buy into this argument.
That said, the main advantage in his game is his blistering speed. Naturally players tend to slow down as they hit 30 or so.
That’s not to say he will, but he’ll be on almost a million dollars in the year he turns 32. I can see an argument as to why that’s risky.
The other major argument is his inexperience. Despite being 27 he has only played 74 NRL games. He’s only had the one genuine season as first choice hooker, and two/three more seasons sharing the role.
Who knows how he will react to a drop in form, an injury or being targeted in defence.
The argument for it being a great deal
I can see merit to the above arguments but the fact is the Bunnies had to do whatever was needed to secure the services of the best number nine in the game.
If he has signed this contract for the Sharks I would have injured myself attempting to do a back flip in celebration.
Cook was the biggest name off contract (that may have signed away, I’m not counting Cam Smith or Cooper Cronk who won’t move clubs) and now the Bunnies don’t have to worry about him being poached for five seasons.
He’s 27. 27! It’s not like he’s turning 32 next season. He will be 32 at the end of this contract. Sure, he may get injured, he may slow down, but you can’t make judgements based on ‘he might get injured’.
Every player in the game could get injured on any given day.
Cook is far from a one trick pony. Yes, he’s quick and the best running number nine in the competition. He also kicks, tackles his backside off, and has a brilliant passing game.
Cam Smith aside, there is no number nine I’d rather have in my side, and being so much younger, right now I’d be taking Cook every day of the week.
He’s also signed an extension and an upgrade, meaning that the Bunnies are paying less than a million dollars a season for a genuine marquee player.
Every club in the game is going to have two million dollar players in the spine within the next year or so. A few clubs aside most clubs already do.
I have no doubt in the world that the Knights or Eels would have offered Cook a million a season.
NO DOUBT IN THE WORLD!!!
He’s worth every cent. The Bunnies have signed arguably the game’s best player for the next half-decade.
Only rugby league fans can find negative in that.