Mike Cooper excelling in NRL - could England call-up be next?

Mike Cooper
Mike Cooper has appeared in 19 of St George's 20 NRL matches so far in 2014

Mike Cooper may have played in the last two Super League Grand Finals in England for Warrington, but he freely admits he arrived in Australia at the start of 2014 largely unknown to rugby league audiences down under.

"Nobody knew who I was, even probably my own team-mates," the 25-year-old forward told BBC Radio Merseyside.

"They were looking round and thinking 'who's this lad we've just bought?' I just went under the radar, which is what I expected and what I wanted.

"To come out here and play regularly, people will have been a little bit surprised and I've probably surprised myself to a point."

So impressive has Cooper's form been during his first season with St George Illawarra Dragons that not only has he appeared in 19 of their 20 NRL games this season, but he is also being tipped by some for a first senior call-up to the England team.

Steve McNamara's side, beaten by New Zealand in the dying seconds of their World Cup semi-final at Wembley last November, renew rivalries with the Kiwis, World Cup winners Australia and Samoa in the Four Nations competition later this year.

England's 2014 Four Nations fixtures
England v SamoaBrisbane, 25 October
Australia v EnglandMelbourne, 2 November
New Zealand v EnglandDunedin, 8 November
FinalWellington, 15 November

Cooper said: "If I do get a chance I'll be really happy, but I won't be disappointed if I don't make it because there's a lot of quality in the NRL and Super League.

"One thing I will say is that there's a huge amount of talent in the forwards, not only with the boys that are playing here like the Burgess brothers and James Graham, but also with what's in England.

"I think Chris Hill [of Warrington] is one of the best forwards in the world. There's the lads that are at St Helens and Craig Huby's been in good form at Castleford, so I know there's a lot of numbers for a position in the pack."

Cooper, who swapped Warrington for St George at the end of the 2013 Super League season, is one of the growing number of English-born players now plying their trade in the Australia.

Did you know?
Seven of England's 24-man squad at last year's World Cup are currently contracted to NRL clubs - Sam Tomkins (New Zealand Warriors), Gareth Widdop (St George Illawarra), George Burgess, Sam Burgess, Tom Burgess (all South Sydney Rabbitohs), James Graham (Canterbury Bulldogs) and Lee Mossop (Parramatta Eels).

The English contingent met up for a meal recently, an engagement that had been arranged prior to the season starting, while Cooper has had fleeting conversations with McNamara, who combines his role as England coach with assisting Trent Robinson at reigning NRL champions Sydney Roosters.

"I've seen him after the games when we've played the Roosters," added Cooper. "And we met for some food - all the English players who play in the NRL, apart from Sam Tomkins who is over in New Zealand, met for a meal a few weeks ago.

"He's at a fantastic club in the Roosters and he's certainly enjoying himself here."

So what of Cooper's England chances, and the possibility of being included for his country's opening Four Nations game against Samoa in Brisbane on 25 October?

"I haven't given it much thought really because I never thought I'd get the opportunity to do," he said.

"People have been saying a few things and I'd be absolutely over the moon to get the call-up.

"I've got to be doing my best for St George to give myself the best chance to play for England. If we're not making the finals, that's going to go against my possible selection."

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