GAVIN Cooper has waited too long, and been too patient, to lose it all now.
It took 10 years for the Cowboys’ no-nonsense back-rower to finally clinch the Queensland Origin jumper that always cruelly seemed just out of reach.
But after finally cracking the most dominant team in State of Origin history last season, Cooper is determined not to be a one-game wonder.
The 31-year-old scored a try on debut in Queensland’s 18-14 loss in game three and with the retired Corey Parker vacating the No.13 jersey, Cooper has his eyes on a back-row berth.
“Having now had a taste of Origin, it’s something I don’t want to give up just yet,” Cooper says.
“It’s funny … ‘Greeny’ (Cooper’s Cowboys coach Paul Green) used to blow up because newspapers were doing the same stories every year about how I should be a chance for Origin.
“But to finally grab a jersey last year was pretty special and I’d love to grab one again.
“With Corey Parker moving on, there’s at least one jersey up for grabs. I know the Queensland team is getting older and so am I, but I still feel I have a bit to offer the Cowboys and the Maroons.”
After 236 first-grade games at three clubs spanning a decade, it is hard to imagine Cooper has anything left to learn. But his maiden trip to Camp Maroon last season taught Cooper lessons in professionalism … and the values of Queensland coach Kevin Walters’ footballing family.
Cooper’s arrival in camp was delayed as he sweated on the birth of his second son, Reggie. All the while, Walters never pressured Cooper, insisting he place family above football.
“Kevvie really looks after the individual, really cares about people and I felt that as soon as I got into camp,” Cooper says.
“It was a stressful time for me but Kevvie was fantastic. He knew I was waiting on the birth of my son and he said just get it sorted and come to camp when you’re ready.
“I said hold on a minute, when I’m ready? Origin is your team, it’s your rules, I’ll do what you want.
“But that sums up Kevvie and the Queensland bond.
“It (his Origin debut) happened at a pretty busy time with the birth of my second son, but it was worth the wait. It’s been a tough team to crack into, but with the success they’ve had over 10 years, I couldn’t really kick stones over not playing Origin.
“Just to be thereabouts over the last few years was nice to know.
“You learn a lot in camp. I watched the way they trained, the boys would have a joke away from the paddock but when training begins, everything turns serious very quickly.
“I’ve tried to bring that professionalism back to the Cowboys. I’ve always been a leader and a talker in any team I’ve played in and now I am trying to work more on keeping the guys’ focus on track if I ever see them slipping off.”
Cooper, 32 in August, is off-contract at season’s end but is confident he can survive in the NRL and Origin arenas for at least another two years.
“The body is good,” he said. “I’ve been a lot better at looking after myself over the latter stages of my career. Having a young family really settles you off the field so there’s not as much time for golf and all the other things I used to do.
“I feel I’ve got a few good years left in me and we’ll get that sorted soon.
“I’ll do another year (in 2018) whether it’s the Cowboys or somewhere else, I’m pretty confident in my ability.”