New Dragon Cooper motivated by fear

New Dragon Mike Cooper is determined to make his mark in ‘‘the strongest league in the world’’. Picture: CHRISTOPHER CHAN
New Dragon Mike Cooper is determined to make his mark in ‘‘the strongest league in the world’’. Picture: CHRISTOPHER CHAN


Playing in the shadows of some of his high-profile English counterparts, Mike Cooper admits his successful NRL debut season has been motivated by fear.

Cooper was determined to emerge from his comfort zone in the English Super League and remove the nagging doubt over whether he could cut it in the world's toughest competition.

While established English internationals Sam Burgess, James Graham and Sam Tomkins were all lured to Australia on big-money deals with the fanfare to match, Cooper's decision to uproot himself after more than a decade in Warrington colours was a far bigger gamble on his own ability.

It is one that has paid off, with the 25-year-old establishing himself as a mainstay of the Dragons pack, missing just one game in a debut NRL season that has rocketed him into contention for a maiden Test jumper at season's end.

Cooper says he saw too many good players in England ruing missed chances to test themselves in the NRL and was determined not to look back on what would have likely been a glittering career with Warrington.

He wanted no regrets.

"I'd been at Warrington since I was 11 years of age and I only had three more years until my testimonial, so I could've stayed there and probably had a 13-to-14-year career there at the club, but I decided I didn't want to be part of that," Cooper said.

"I actually spoke to [English international] Garreth Carvell at Warrington. He had the opportunity to come out to the NRL before he signed with Warrington and he said to me he's regretted [not taking] it ever since. I'm good friends with Gaz, so I really took that on board.

"I felt I was becoming a little bit part of the furniture there and sort of the forgotten person a little bit. It's no fault of the club; it was my own fault for letting myself get too comfortable.

"I needed a change and there's no bigger change than moving to the other side of the world," Cooper said.

A move to the NRL was a common talking point among English players but only a few made the move, he said.

"A lot of the boys would want to test themselves out here. Why wouldn't you? It's the strongest league in the world.

"If you want to get the best out of yourself, I think you need to be a part of that.

"I took the gamble and, fortunately, it's worked out for me so far."

While he has several years of unfinished business in the NRL, Cooper plans to return to England one day in the hope of inspiring another generation to follow his lead, in much the same way that legendary Roosters hard man Adrian Morley did for him.

"You've only got to look at the likes of Moz, who came back from the Roosters an absolute legend of rugby league in England," Cooper said.

"Certainly for me at Warrington it was a godsend to have him to look up."