Damien Cook has urged NSW State of Origin coach Brad Fittler to hold his nerve and retain South Sydney teammate Cody Walker.
After failing to fire in his Origin debut, Walker is under pressure to hold onto his Blues jersey in the face of stiff opposition from his predecessor James Maloney.
The pair’s head-to-head clash when South Sydney host the Panthers on Saturday night is a virtual play-off for the NSW No.6 jersey for next weekend’s game two in Perth.
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And while some pundits are baying for changes, Cook said Walker had done enough after proving one of the in-form players during the first half of the NRL season.
“I believe he has earned it with the way he played in the earlier rounds,” Cook said.
“We lost the game and the halves cop the pressure of that.
“We went up to Queensland, we lost by four points, they made their own luck, (Dane Gagai) scored a nice try on the wing.
If that (Gagai’s intercept try) ball goes to (Josh) Addo-Carr and we score in the corner, it’s a whole different story we’re talking about.”
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Cook said the blame for the loss shouldn’t fall on Walker and said it was NSW’s inability to get into good field position and Queensland’s line speed in the second-half which was decisive.
Fittler will be forced to make one change with prop David Klemmer (wrist) out, but Cook cautioned against ringing in too many adjustments given the short build-up.
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Fittler will announce his team on Sunday and they will fly to Perth on Monday before having just three training runs and a captain’s run.
“It’s only a short week so we don’t want to change too much. As long as everyone’s got through injury-free, we just want to improve on the areas we didn’t do well in game one,” Cook said.
Cook said Walker, who was benched during the game, had copped the criticism on the chin and wasn’t worried it could dent his confidence.
“I think he’s responded really well. He probably struggled a bit more playing his first Origin game and getting all those compliments and how well he was playing,” he said.
“He probably struggled to take that on board more than what he’s doing now.
“He’s played some really good footy and earned his spot.”