NRL: Super League import Cooper showing his worth

Mike Cooper of the Dragons. Photo / Getty Images
Mike Cooper of the Dragons. Photo / Getty Images

Super League imports James Graham, Sam Tomkins and the Burgess clan have all made an impact in the NRL, and now St George Illawarra's unheralded Englishman Mike Cooper is doing the same.

Graham, Tomkins and Sam Burgess arrived in Australia with weighty reputations as proven internationals.

Cooper, on the other hand, was a bench forward for Warrington who was considered too small to play for England, so eyebrows were raised when he signed a two-year deal with the Dragons.

But the 26-year-old has silenced the doubters in his opening eight games, and scored his first NRL try in Saturday's 20-10 win over the Warriors at WIN Jubilee Oval in Sydney. "It was a typical front-rower's effort, crashing over from two yards out," said Cooper.

"I actually called to Mitch Rein for another play but he overruled me and played me in ... it was a nice moment to score on my debut at Kogarah."

While his better-known countrymen were playing in the Rugby League World Cup, Cooper first linked with his new teammates in Wollongong last November.

What he experienced was the hardest pre-season of his career as he bulked up to 103kg to help cope with the rigours of the NRL.

"It was really tough, we were training in temperatures around 35 degrees. You don't get that in the northwest of England," he said.

"When I arrived, my aim was just to break into the team. I thought I'd maybe have to start in reserve grade but so far so good."

Cooper has been used for long stints off the bench by coach Steve Price and his performances, particularly his footwork, have been highly praised, for one, by NSW skipper Paul Gallen.

"I've played a far bit of lock for Warrington and mostly used off the bench. I like to run the ball so it's not an uncommon role for me," he said. "It was always going to take a bit of time to adjust to the NRL. My aim now is to just keep my place in the team."

Price said he knew what he was getting when he signed Cooper and has been satisfied with what he's delivering. "He's an honest guy, you don't get too many more honest than Mike Cooper," Price said. "He's doing his job every week for us. That's what we want."

Teammate and compatriot Gareth Widdop had never met Cooper until this year but the pair have become close friends. "I moved from Melbourne and he moved over from England so it was nice to get to know him. Our partners get on really well too," Widdop said. "It was a big move for him but he's been one of our best players."

- AAP

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