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Rabbitohs hooker Damien Cook.

Like everyone else, I've been blown away by the improvement in Damien Cook's game this year.

If he can continue to evolve as a player I think he could be one of the best hookers we've seen.

He's a supreme athlete, but the next evolution for him as a player is to learn to be able to play both fast and slow because his physical traits won't last forever.

He comes up against Cameron Smith on Friday night. Smith is the master of controlling the pace of a game from dummy half. That's one thing I wish I'd brought into my game earlier in my career.

There are plenty of things Cook has done well this year. He's dynamic, supremely fit and is tough as nails.

His defensive efforts don't draw as much attention, but they are equal to his attacking ability.

First and foremost it's a credit to him, he obviously worked very hard at training and in the off-season to edge out Robbie Farah.

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The Rabbitohs' attacking style has opened a tremendous opportunity for him and is perfectly suited to his skill set.

The fact the Rabbitohs are able to shift the ball to the edge early in the tackle count with such potency really pulls apart the middle third of the field. 

Secondly, the Burgess boys are lethal through the middle. The past couple of years they've struggled with ball handling and go-forward because it was easier for defences to compress in on them.

Sam has always been good, but Tom and George were lacking punch. In the past, they've had two or three guys on them in a tackle, slowing them down, whereas now with a thinner middle third to run at they find themselves with multiple one-on-one opportunities throughout a game.

They'll always be a handful for one defender. That leads to line breaks and quick play the balls. Enter Damien Cook.

Quick play the balls and a thinned-out defensive line are an explosive hookers dream. And there's none more explosive than Damien Cook.

It hasn't surprised me that he has been so damaging, and the Rabbitohs have won a number of games off the back of his performances.

A lot of the time when he makes a break no-one touches him – that's because there's no-one in front of him. That's testament to the game plan they've got. Even in Origin the NSW forwards had the roll on there and they were presenting that opportunity for him as well.

Where his game can be limited is if teams can slow down the Rabbitohs forward pack by getting numbers in and controlling the ruck. That is what happened when Greg Inglis, Alex Johnston and Robert Jennings were all out injured.

The opposition defence had less need to worry about out wide which allowed them to compress. It's no surprise Cook was a little quieter through this period.

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For his style of game that's the next evolution – to be able to use your forward pack and the players around you to create situations that will dictate the speed of the game.

Cameron Smith does this better than anyone; he'll work the ruck over and over, creating speed and momentum, but also identifying when he has the defence compressed, to shift wide. We even see him take a run or two and occasionally make a line break, but he doesn't have the speed or agility Damien Cook has.

It's easier said than done because it's hard to teach a fast guy how to play slow. It's really hard to teach an athlete not to instinctively rely on his physical advantages and think more about how he can get a strategic advantage.

I went through a similar sort of path when I was playing hooker at the Roosters. I had a great period, then I went through a time where wrestling was all the rage, the ruck slowed down a lot so there was not that space around the ruck and my whole running game shut down.

I tried to combat that by being more physical, trying to run over people which is not what I should have done. I should have taken a step back and played slower and used my teammates to create opportunities.

My last year at the Roosters I started to play a little bit slower and I started to wait for the defence to make a decision and then I'd play, instead of going at the defence making them make a decision.

I started to get that towards the back end of my time at the Roosters but then I went to the Rabbitohs and played in the halves, I bounced around different positions, played lock so didn't get much time to refine my skills at hooker.

As you get older you lose speed as well, so if your game is solely based on speed and agility out of hooker and you don't have those other strings to your bow, there's going to be a new train pulling up at the station before you know it.

Cook gets through a lot of work in defence too. His tackle success rate is very high for the number of tackles he makes. He's a supreme athlete but I think the next phase of his game is to be less of an athlete and be more of a strategist.

If Damien Cook can master that, he could be one of the best hookers we've seen.