NRL Poms in thick of action

St George Illawarra Dragons' English signing Mike Cooper. Picture: ANDY ZAKELI

St George Illawarra Dragons' English signing Mike Cooper. Picture: ANDY ZAKELI

Canterbury Bulldogs' English import James Graham. Picture: GETTY IMAGES

Canterbury Bulldogs' English import James Graham. Picture: GETTY IMAGES

RUGBY LEAGUE

Mike Cooper reckons it's easy for the NRL's English invaders to win over Australia's rugby league-loving public - but he's still trying to get his head around the biggest occasion on the regular season calendar.

"It's kind of weird when you're lining up there and the Australian national anthem is going and I'm up there thinking 'what have I got myself into?'," the St George Illawarra prop said of his Anzac Day experience.

"[But] it was pretty cool and I don't think many English lads would have been a part of it before. It's good to see the way the Australian people have embraced the English lads who have come out here.

"Aussies over here seem to like us if we back ourselves and try hard and that's what we're all trying to do."

If Cooper wanted to heed any more advice from an Englishman on what it's like to play on some of the NRL's biggest stages, he could do worse than look straight across the ANZ Stadium divide on Sunday.

There waiting will be arguably one of the Old Dart's best exports to Australia; Bulldogs brute James Graham.

Graham has been a revelation for Canterbury since his arrival and has the ink barely dry on a new multimillion-dollar four-year deal with Des Hasler's side to show for it.

Just don't go asking Cooper if his coffee buddy cum adversary on Mother's Day was an inspiration for engineering his own move to Wollongong.

"He was already playing Test footy and he was way above where I was at [when Graham left the Super League]," Cooper said.

"I just wanted to come out here and get myself away from family and friends to make some sacrifices and see how I go.

"His skill level and work rate ... a lot of people want to be like him in that sense. I've got a lot of respect for him and what he's doing here and he's a great fella away from the field."

Cooper speaks of the semi-regular catch-ups the English exports [Dragons five-eighth Gareth Widdop included] had in Sydney.

If they were worried about how quickly the ex-Warrington prop would settle into the frenetic speed of the NRL, they needn't have.

The 25-year-old has been one of the Red V's standouts through the first eight rounds with a fleet of foot and sleight of hand adding an extra dimension to the Dragons' forwards.

Now he needs a motor to go with it up against a pack boasting heavy hitters Graham, Aiden Tolman, Tony Williams and Sam Kasiano.

But he won't need to think too hard about where the Bulldogs will get their inspiration from.

"[Graham's] skill level and work rate ... a lot of people want to be like him in that sense," Cooper said. "It's a real pivotal point of the season for us.

"We have to make sure we perform on Sunday against a very quality side that has a lot of attacking skills, especially in the middle of the field."

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