Damien Cook's confession about family as Souths hooker lifts the lid on sad NRL departure

The veteran player has revealed his anger at sadness that he's been forced out of the Rabbitohs.

Damien Cook has revealed he doesn't want to leave the Rabbitohs but is heading to the Dragons next year because it's the best thing for his young family. Cook is on the verge of signing a two-year deal with St George Illawarra from 2025, after salary cap pressures meant the Rabbitohs couldn't offer him an extension.

Cook broke down in tears last week when he told his Souths teammates that he was leaving at the end of the year. The 32-year-old's departure comes as the Rabbitohs prepare for a second stint under master-coach Wayne Bennett.

And Cook revealed over the weekend that it was actually Bennett who told him to do the best thing for his family and take up the Dragons' offer. Cook could have stayed at the Rabbitohs for one more year on $650,000, but will reportedly get $500,000 per year at the Dragons.

Damien Cook with his wife and son.
Damien Cook is doing the best thing for his young family by leaving the Rabbitohs. Image: Getty

“Cooky didn’t make the decision until he had spoken to Wayne. Wayne’s obviously making recruitment decisions there next year,” Phil Rothfield said on Sky Sports radio. “All the Souths players are seeking advice from Wayne on different things.

"If Wayne had wanted Cooky to stay for two years instead of the one they offered him, do you think he’d be staying for two years? Of course he would. So he’s made that decision. He (Bennett) told him (Cook), ‘Do the best for your family.’ What it means by going to St George Illawarra, he gets an extra year. For a young fella with a young family, he had to take that.”

Damien Cook, pictured here with his son after a game for the Rabbitohs in 2023.
Damien Cook with his son after a game for the Rabbitohs in 2023. Image: Getty

Cook told the Daily Telegraph: “It’s probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in football. I started bawling as soon as I got up to tell the boys. I know it’s a business but I didn’t think I’d ever be leaving Souths. It was a big shock.

“I’ve had such a great time at Souths. I’ve started a family, bought my house, played for NSW and Australia and shared so many special moments with my teammates. The club has been a massive part of my life. You go through a lot of emotions. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t angry and disappointed when I first found out. That’s probably a normal feeling.”

As for the man who Cook wants to see replace him at Souths, he has no doubt it should be Peter Mamouzelos. The 23-year-old has emerged as a future star in 2024 after temporarily taking Cook's starting spot earlier in the year.

"They won't get anyone else. (Mamouzelos) is the one," Cook said. "I've been working alongside Pete for three years, but it feels like he's been here a lot longer. He knows the system, he knows the plays, and he'll do that job just fine.

"I've loved training alongside him, and I even get to play alongside him now. He's going to do the job fine, there'll be no issues there. He's the man for the club to back, and I'm sure they'll do that. There's no need to look elsewhere when it's right under your nose."

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Cook showed his class by promising to keep helping prepare Mamouzelos to take over the No.9 jersey. "No doubt me and him will work closely for the rest of the year," he said. "Because one thing is for certain - you've got to leave this jersey in a better place. I'll continue to do that until I pass on the reins."

with AAP