Damien Cook's standing as the NRL's form hooker has him poised to claim a maiden Kangaroos jersey, just 12 months after he was stuck with second-string dummy-half duties at the Rabbitohs.
Cameron Smith's retirement from rep football has Cook in the box seat for an Australian Test debut at season's end, with the Kangaroos taking on New Zealand in October and negotiations still ongoing around a historic clash with Tonga.
The 27-year-old has been in rare touch throughout South Sydney's resurgence as a premiership force, outpointing his No.9 rivals across several key statistics this season.
Cook's four try-assists and seven line breaks this year are the most by any hooker in the NRL, trumping the likes of Smith, Kiwi veteran Issac Luke and Origin counterpart Andrew McCullough.
The NSW rookie's 5.85 dummy-half runs a game are also a competition best among dummy-halves, while his 42.75 tackles a game trail only McCullough (43.4) and Jake Friend (42.8) with ex-Bunnies teammate Robbie Farah clocking 110 tackles in his two games this year.
It was only in late-July last year that Cook was finally given an extended stint in South Sydney's starting side, before new coach Anthony Seibold backed him to become an 80-minute hooker.
At Origin level Cook has been a key figure in the Blues' series win with his attacking output doubling that of McCullough, with the Rabbitohs rake admitting an Test debut would cap a remarkable rise through the ranks.
"As a young kid growing up you just want to play at the top level," Cook said.
"I've been lucky enough to do that with Origin this year and if an Aussie jersey comes along the way at some stage in my career I'd love the opportunity so but first things first, it's back to South Sydney now.
"Obviously it opens the door for all the hookers in the game with Cam Smith retiring - he's done such a good job for so long… but I really just want to be playing consistent and doing a good job for South Sydney.
"We want to be the top four side at the end of the year going into the finals. Like with Origin, if I'm playing good footy and I'm playing consistently and those things come along the way… we'll see how they go."
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