Hasler puts faith in new Bulldogs hooker

Canterbury coach Des Hasler says back-up hooker Damien Cook could stay in the side for the rest of the NRL season even when Josh Reynolds returns from injury.

A season-ending ankle injury to starting No.9 Michael Lichaa has forced Hasler to call up the 24-year-old for Friday night’s grudge match against South Sydney.

It will be Cook’s first top-grade game in over 12 months, and just the fifth for his career since debuting for St George-Illawarra in 2013.

Lichaa’s absence is a major blow to the Bulldogs’ premiership aspirations, but Hasler remained confident Cook would fill in capably.

“Michael was really fitting into the role and his game’s gone in leaps and bounds. I’m personally disappointed for him,” Hasler said on Thursday.

“But young Damien Cook that’s coming in, he’s been waiting for his opportunity. He’s an experienced campaigner, a good footballer and he’ll do the job tomorrow night.”

Hasler confirmed Reynolds remained 2-3 weeks away from returning from a knee problem he suffered in round 20, but said the utility wouldn’t necessarily be slotted straight into hooker in place of Cook with Trent Hodkinson and Moses Mbye preferred in the halves.

“We’ve got a bit of flexibility around that position (hooker),” he said.

“We’ve got Josh and Moses (Mbye) also played hooker in the GF last year.

“We’ll be okay there, but don’t exclude Damien Cook.”

Friday’s meeting with the Rabbitohs is their first clash since the controversial Good Friday encounter in round five that ended with three Bulldogs suspended.

Skipper James Graham and teammate David Klemmer were both rubbed out for their tirades directed at referee Gerard Sutton, while Sam Kasiano was banned for a dangerous contact.

Hasler admitted it took time for the side to move on from the loss.

“For the players it did. We had a couple of injuries in there, and a couple of suspensions,” he said.

“But that’s just part and parcel of the game.”

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