AAP Rugby

Cook jumps to defence of Origin rival

By AAP Newswire

South Sydney star Damien Cook has leapt to the defence of State of Origin rival Ben Hunt, believing the St. George Illawarra No.7 would've been ordered to rest.

Hunt has been named to make his controversial return as part of four changes to the Dragons side for their must-win clash with South Sydney.

Skipper Gareth Widdop is a welcome addition in the halves with Hunt after recovering from a shoulder reconstruction in March.

Corey Norman is the new fullback, while coach Paul McGregor has also opted for a new wing pairing of debutant Jason Saab and Zac Lomax.

Hunt was sensationally rested from last week's loss to Penrith, which left the Dragons four points adrift of the top eight in 14th spot with seven games to go.

It followed a gruelling Origin campaign for Queensland, where the halfback impressed in the unfamiliar position of hooker in the series defeat.

Hunt found some unlikely support from NSW counterpart Cook on Tuesday.

"Especially for Ben, it's a whole different position to what he's used to," Cook said.

"It's like if anyone was to move from hooker to fullback.

"It doesn't matter if you can play 80 minutes at hooker, it doesn't mean you'd be able to do it at fullback because it's a whole different style of fitness and running.

"You might not be making collisions a lot of the time. That was something Ben did and did very well. Every game he made 50 tackles and didn't miss any."

Having formed a friendship while representing the Kangaroos in Auckland last year, Cook is adamant Hunt was merely following instructions to rest.

"I don't doubt that he was told to rest. I'm sure he would've wanted to play and they've made the decision for him," Cook said.

"Knowing Ben, he loves playing footy. If he comes out and has a blinder this week, we'll all be saying it was a smart decision by Mary to do that."

They take on a Rabbitohs side unchanged from the one that edged North Queensland last week, however Sam and Tom Burgess are in a 21-man squad.

Sam was ruled out indefinitely last week following complications from shoulder surgery, but trained separately from his teammates on Tuesday.

In other major news for round 19, Parramatta coach Brad Arthur has made three changes following his team's insipid display last week.

Mid-season recruit Waqa Blake will make his club debut, while Oregon Kaufusi and Daniel Alvaro come in for the axed Shaun Lane and Jaemon Salmon.

Gold Coast will also field a new face in Super League buy Kallum Watkins, while Tyrone Peachey returns against a Brisbane outfit that get Matt Gillett back.

North Queensland, Newcastle, Manly, Penrith and Canberra are unchanged.

THURSDAY

Cronulla v North Queensland at PointsBet Stadium, 7.50pm

FRIDAY

Newcastle v Wests Tigers at McDonald Jones Stadium, 6pm

South Sydney v St. George Illawarra at ANZ Stadium, 7.55pm

SATURDAY

Parramatta v Warriors at Bankwest Stadium, 3pm

Gold Coast v Brisbane at Cbus Super Stadium, 5.30pm

Melbourne v Manly at AAMI Park, 7.35pm

SUNDAY

Canterbury v Sydney Roosters at ANZ Stadium, 2pm

Penrith v Canberra at Panthers Stadium, 4.05pm