St George Illawarra Dragons prop Mike Cooper is ready to expect the unexpected against the New Zealand Warriors at Mt Smart Stadium, Auckland on Sunday.
Recent reports on Friday have indicated that up to six players from the Warriors, including several senior players, have been axed ahead of the game following a poor showing against the Melbourne Storm last round.
Cooper, capped three times for England, admits the team are expecting physical encounter irrespective of who they line-up against and is relishing the opportunity to continue the team’s recent winning-streak over their trans-Tasman rivals.
The Latchford Albion junior also notes that the team will be buoyed by the return of halfback Benji Marshall if he overcomes a reoccurring hamstring injury in time for the match, but will need to adapt to the omission of Mitch Rein (shoulder) if the latter is ruled out.
Cooper has also noted that Head Coach Paul McGregor has addressed to the playing group following his recent off-field incident.
“Paul spoke to us as a group before it came out in the press and obviously that’s a big mistake on his part,” said Cooper.
“It’s a mistake he is truly sorry about and I’m sure it won’t happen again.
“Any one of players could have been in that situation and obviously he made a bad judgement call and got it wrong.
“I know he regrets that and he has apologised so it’s dead and buried now.
“I think the Warriors will be dangerous and it has come out that they will be making a lot of changes to the team.
“They will be playing at home so obviously wanting to put in a good performance and I expect the opening of the gam to be a tough and fiery encounter.
“It’s one that I am looking forward to.
“These are the kinds of games you need to be careful about as they’ll have senior players missing and you certainly don’t want to take them lightly.
“Certainly since I’ve been here they haven’t been able to beat us and I’m not sure why.
“We always have a strong game against them and I know when we played them I the pre-season trial match we beat them fairly comfortably.
“We have a good record against the Warriors so we’ll be heading over there full of confidence but it’s a must win for us and must win for them as well.
“The coach has come out and made a few changes so they young players who are stepping in I’m sure will be fired up and it will be a physical game.
“Benji is a quality players with a lot of experience and we’ll see how he goes at training on Saturday and if he pulls-up fine from that I’m sure he’ll play.
“Mitch came off the field last game with an AC injury to his shoulder, as well as being concussed, and it’s a pretty important position he is in passing the ball.
“We will see how he goes in training but if he doesn’t feel comfortable then he won’t play.”