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Damien Cook left out of Kangaroos squad in latest blow for South Sydney

The experienced No.9 has been dealt another setback after a season to forget with the Rabbitohs in 2023.

Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga has revealed where Damien Cook sits in the pecking order in terms of hooking options for Australia. Pic: Getty
Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga has revealed where Damien Cook sits in the pecking order in terms of hooking options for Australia. Pic: Getty

South Sydney hooker Damien Cook has been dealt a fresh setback after his Rabbitohs side's disappointing end to the NRL season. The experienced No.9 has been overlooked for the Kangaroos' extended train-on squad, which is preparing for end-of-season Tri-Nations Test series against New Zealand and Samoa, starting in October.

Cook was also left out of the Australia squad that won the World Cup in England last year, with his latest snub further evidence that his international career may well be over. The Rabbitohs rake has been a mainstay in rep footy for a number of years but also found his starting place for NSW taken by Reece Robson in this year's Origin series.

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The 32-year-old famously had to play in the centres in State of Origin Game II after coming off the bench to replace the injured Tom Trbojevic, before being reinstalled by coach Brad Fittler as the starting hooker ahead of Robson in a morale-boosting win for NSW in Game III. Robson has again been preferred as one of the Kangaroos' options at hooker after the initial names were revealed in Australia's extended squad.

Damien Cook lost his starting place in Brad Fittler's NSW State of Origin side during the 2023 series. Pic: Getty
Damien Cook lost his starting place in Brad Fittler's NSW State of Origin side during the 2023 series. Pic: Getty

Bulldogs star Matt Burton is the other big omission from coach Mal Meninga's Kangaroos train-on squad, with Zac Lomax and J’maine Hopgood among the biggest bolters to be named in the side. Cook's Rabbitohs teammates Latrell Mitchell, Cameron Murray and Campbell Graham have all been picked after being part of Australia's World Cup squad, with Bunnies five-eighth Cody Walker also chosen to potentially make his Test debut.

Meninga confirmed that Cook had dropped down the pecking order. “In Damien’s case we feel Reece Robson got his shot with the Blues and Harry Grant and Ben Hunt are the Queensland duo and from last year’s World Cup,” Meninga said on SEN. “That’s the pecking list. Matt (Burton) is a little bit behind everyone else at the moment.

“(Hopgood) was in the training squad for the Maroons. It will be great to take him to PNG. Zac had a great finish to the year. He can play either side (at centre) or fullback. Meninga also initially picked Jake Averillo as another bolter in the squad, but the Bulldogs flyer has had to pull out with an injury that Meninga revealed would require an operation.

Damien Cook snub adds to pain after Rabbitohs woes

Cook's snub is the latest brutal blow in what has been a challenging season for the 32-year-old, whose Rabbitohs side became the first club in the NRL era to miss out on the finals after leading the comp as late as round 12. South Sydney have been embroiled in weeks of turmoil after assistant coach and club legend Sam Burgess left his role just two weeks before the end of the regular season.

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Burgess reportedly wouldn't fall into line with the standards (or lack thereof) that coach Jason Demetriou was upholding at the club and had expressed concerns about the 'soft' treatment of Mitchell and Walker in particular. Mitchell was also caught up in an ugly saga after being described by Rodney Churchill - son of Rabbitohs great Clive Churchill - as a "cancer" on the club.

Mitchell's form in 2023 has been the subject of intense debate, with recent reports the Bunnies were considering shifting him to the centres in 2024 being slammed across the league world. The superstar fullback was unable to play a part in South Sydney's do-or-die final game of the season against the Roosters after serving a suspension, but Meninga says the 26-year-old is "keen" to be part of Australia's end-of-season Tests.

“I’ve had a chat to Latrell to see where he is at in terms of his life more than anything else,” Meninga said. “He has been knocked around. I’m a fan of Latrell’s. I’ve had a good conversation with him and he is keen to put the green and gold jersey on.”

Kangaroos' initial train-on squad

Bulldogs: Josh Addo-Carr

Cowboys: Reece Robson, Valentine Holmes, Reuben Cotter and Murray Taulagi

Dolphins: Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow

Dragons: Ben Hunt and Zac Lomax

Eels: Reagan Campbell-Gillard and J’maine Hopgood

Rabbitohs: Latrell Mitchell, Campbell Graham, Cody Walker and Cameron Murray.

Sea Eagles: Daly Cherry-Evans and Jake Trbojevic.

Titans: Tino Fa'asuamaleaui

*list will be updated as teams are eliminated from the NRL finals

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