Cooper: Not On My Mind
By Matt Encarnacion (NRL.com)
He's played all but one game in his first season in the NRL, but Dragons prop Mike Cooper insists he isn't even thinking about representing England in the Four Nations later this year.
Cooper was one of several of England's NRL-based players, including union-bound forward Sam Burgess, who gathered for dinner with national coach Steve McNamara last week.
But the 25-year-old was adamant representing his nation at the end of the season was far from his mind.
"I haven't thought about it too much. People keep telling me that I must be in with a chance, but it wasn't on my mind when I first come out here to try and get picked for that," he told NRL.com.
"Literally my goal was to play one game this year. That's all it was.
"So to come out here and to play, every one bar one game, it's not been too bad really.
"Obviously we're getting to that point of the season and if I get picked I'll be ecstatic about it.
"But we've got a lot of good forwards, not only here already with the Burgesses and James Graham, but also in the Super League. So there's a lot of competition."
Cooper has been a revelation for the Red V this year, playing in 19 of a possible 20 games since arriving from the Super League late last year.
Somewhat of an unknown element at the beginning of the season, the former Warrington Wolves forward has emerged as a staple in the Dragons' pack so far in 2014, averaging almost 100 metres and 27 tackles per game.
"It's been a great learning experience for me. There were a few things I needed to be better at when I first got here, and to be able to play I worked hard in the off-season," he said.
"It's certainly been intense every week, which is the biggest difference for me moving here.
"The exposure of the game, it's different to back home. So I've just been getting used to that, really."
After starting his first nine games off the bench under sacked coach Steve Price, Cooper was inserted into the starting line-up in Round 10 and has remained there for all but one game under interim coach Paul McGregor.
Cooper was named on the bench on Tuesday.
"I probably don't give myself enough praise really. I'm always trying to push myself," he said. "But it's been a decent first season. I'm not happy with, certainly my form [last week]. But I've just got to keep working hard."
Having been involved in the national set-up as part of the England Knights – the nation's reserve grade team – Cooper caught up with a number of his countrymen for dinner last week.
"I'm already part of the system because I played for the reserve team which is the England Knights," he said.
"I played for them last year but I pulled out of it last year because I was coming out here.
"We met up as all the English players last week for a meal.
"It was good to meet the rest of the players again to have a good chat and bring out the old English humour.
"But there's been no talk of being picked or anything like that.
"Like I said, there's a lot of quality back home.
"I'm just trying to do the best I can in the toughest competition in the world and be a part of a team that's trying to do well in this competition. And if that means I get picked, I get picked.
"And if I don't, there's always next year."
England play their first game against Samoa as part of a double-header at Suncorp Stadium on October 25.