Souths' Cook wary of wounded Dragons

Souths' Damien Cook is wary of St George Illawarra despite their woes this year.
Souths' Damien Cook is wary of St George Illawarra despite their woes this year.

South Sydney hooker Damien Cook has implored his teammates to ignore St George Illawarra's lowly position on the NRL ladder as Paul McGregor's men get set to circle the wagons.

The second-placed Rabbitohs meet the under-fire Dragons at ANZ Stadium on Friday night for what appears to be a mismatch.

Just 10 months ago the two sides met at the same venue in the second week of the finals, with the cardinal and myrtle triumphing thanks to an 80th minute Adam Reynolds field goal.

The Red V have fallen sharply since then, winning just two of their last 11 to be out of finals contention.

The playing group on Monday got together at their Wollongong base for a crisis meeting while hooker Cameron McInnes is reported to have delivered a stern spray to his teammates following Friday's 40-18 defeat to Penrith.

Questions are being asked of McGregor's decision to rest million-dollar No.7 Ben Hunt last week but the Queensland Origin representative will return this week alongside halves partner Gareth Widdop - who is back from a four-month lay-off because of shoulder surgery.

"Gareth is one of the best players in the game and they missed him, just like we're missing Sam (Burgess)," Cook said.

"You do miss that leadership out there. And he's in the halves as well. Him coming back alongside Ben Hunt, he'll be fresh and they'll be flying this week.

"When a team gets put under a bit of pressure from the media, you tend to come together really strong.

"They'll be coming out firing on the weekend so we've got to make sure we're on top of our game because they've just got too much star power."

Cook is being carefully managed after a taxing State of Origin series during which he played a key role in NSW's second successive series win.

After establishing himself as one of the game's premier dummy halves last year, and earning his Origin debut, Cook's form flatlined in the back end of 2018.

He said coach Wayne Bennett had offered him time off when he felt he needed it and missed one session last week and only took part in sections of their captain's run before their 30-18 defeat of North Queensland.

But he ruled out being rested in the lead up to the finals.

"I love playing footy and South Sydney are doing a really good job of looking after my training loads during the week and I'm ready to go on the weekends," Cook said.

Australian Associated Press