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Storm wary of Cook in top-of-table NRL tie

Melbourne say they will be wary of Souths’ Damien Cook when they meet on Friday.He’s not only emerged as the heir to Cameron Smith’s No.9 jumper for Australia, but a genuine obstacle for Melbourne’s push for a third straight NRL minor premiership.
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Storm coach Craig Bellamy has identified Cook as the key to shutting down the Rabbitohs when the heavyweights meet in a top-of-the-table clash on Friday.

After helping NSW claim a State of Origin series win over Queensland this year, Cook is the frontrunner to take over from the retired Smith as the next Kangaroos hooker.

Bellamy said containing the Rabbitohs rake, who averages 30 run metres more than any other hooker this year, presents a unique challenge for his team at ANZ Stadium.

“Damien with his sharpness out of dummy half behind such a big pack of forwards, that adds a different dimension to what we’ve defended the past 4-6 weeks,” Bellamy told reporters on Thursday.

Rabbitohs counterpart Anthony Seibold, who completed part of his coaching apprenticeship under Bellamy in Melbourne, was equal in his praise for the opposing No.9.

Seibold still regards Smith as the best hooker in the game at 35 years of age.

But more importantly, he believes the game’s most capped player has transformed his style to suit a spine that boasts three fullbacks in Billy Slater, Cameron Munster and Jahrome Hughes.

Hughes appears set to have beaten out playmakers Ryley Jacks and Brodie Croft to be the Storm’s halfback for this year’s finals series.

“They’ve got effectively three fullbacks in those key positions with Billy, Cameron Munster and Jahrome Hughes,” Seibold said.

“They’re all fantastic runners of the footy. They bring a lot of threat to defensive lines.”

But limiting Smith is the priority.

“The thing I’ve watched over the recent weeks is how well-controlled Smithy is through the middle of the park,” Seibold said.

“Obviously he’s the best hooker that there’s been in our game, but he’s made a big impact with the attack this year and those three guys are really effective running the footy.”

COOK v SMITH IN 2019

Try assists: 8-3

Line break assists: 8-7

Line breaks: 10-1

Tackle busts: 54-14

Offloads: 22-16

Runs per game: 8-4

Metres per game: 96-30

Tackles per game: 40-35

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