Cowboys’ form won’t cost Cooper
NORTH Queensland's horrendous form will not cost Gavin Cooper his Queensland jumper, with the Cowboys back-rower set to be retained for Origin I.
As he prepares to face his former club Penrith on Friday night in Bathurst, The Courier-Mail understands Cooper only has to stay fit to clinch the Queensland No. 11 jumper for the series opener at the MCG.
The Cowboys are languishing in equal last spot, and their shock early season free fall has delivered a jolt to the Origin selection hopes of star duo Michael Morgan and Coen Hess.
But Queensland coach Kevin Walters is backing Cooper at a time when the Maroons' back-row stocks have been eroded by injuries to Broncos Origin incumbents Josh McGuire (ankle) and Matt Gillett (neck).
Cooper was blooded by Walters in the 2016 series to help capitalise on his left-edge alliance with Cowboys champion Johnathan Thurston, who has retired from the Origin arena this season.
There were fears Thurston's absence could have selection ramifications for Cooper, but the injury-ravaged Maroons are banking on the 32-year-old's experience to help stave off a NSW uprising.
While Cooper's Origin bona fides will be tested by a monster Penrith pack tomorrow night, he dismissed suggestions he is among the Cowboys' 30-somethings who are on the wane as NRL players.
"We don't come to training and watch the tape (of games) and think we are old," Cooper said.
"There's pressure on us all the time. We have set the expectations high because of the form we've set in recent years.
"As a team, we know where we should be, we don't need the coach to tell us how we are playing.
"We just see the opportunities we are missing. We missed a whole lot against Canberra (in last week's 18-8 loss), it (taking their chances) may not have won us the game, but it would have made us ask questions of them."
The Cowboys will embark on a 10-day mini-camp to help cure their ills, starting with tomorrow's road trip to Bathurst before meeting the dangerous Wests Tigers next Thursday at Leichhardt Oval.
Cooper is not the only Cowboy being forced to defend his age. Last week, one of his closest footballing friends, Thurston, turned 35, just a fortnight after Panthers playmaking legend Greg Alexander questioned if he had played a season too long.
Tomorrow night, Thurston takes on the Penrith club that tried to sign him to a $5 million deal five years ago.
Cooper hit out at critics of the four-time Dally M winner.
"We were a bit surprised to see the big comment about 'Jonno' (playing too long) but he is still up there for me," he said.
"I wouldn't take anyone else in the comp. I've seen what he can do and how he can influence games. I wouldn't want anyone else in the No. 7 jersey."