Damien Cook is calling on his fellow South Sydney forwards to fire up as he takes on the so-called Roger Federer of the NRL on Friday night.
With Cook making his NSW State of Origin debut in 2018, the year after Cameron Smith retired from representative rugby league, he never had the chance to lock horns on the game's biggest stages with the former Queensland and Australian captain.
But he's relishing the chance at pay-back at AAMI Park when the Rabbitohs take on Melbourne with both heavyweight outfits coming off a loss after the competition resumed.
"It's no easy task to go down there to Melbourne and we've had some trouble down there, had some tough semi-final losses down there in some tight games," Cook told NRL 360.
Canberra's canny Josh Hodgson outpointed Smith in the Raiders' 22-6 victory over the Storm last Saturday and Cook suspects Melbourne's 36-year-old skipper will be smarting at critics claiming he's no longer the code's premier hooker.
"He's never gone," Cook said.
"Great players like that, you see them across all sports - Roger Federer and that, even at an old age they're still playing their best and that's why they're considered the greatest in their position and you definitely wouldn't write him off at all.
"But I enjoy the challenge of coming up against the best in the game and I put him up there as one of the best players to play the game but definitely the best hooker.
"So I always enjoy coming up against him because you want to compare yourself against the best."
Cook is relying on his Rabbitohs teammates to help him get the upper hand on Smith.
"So hopefully the boys can get some good forward momentum and, when we do get those quick play the balls, it's up to me to pick my times and not overplay my hand and just take my chances," he said.
"And, when I do, just back myself to run."
While Cook declared himself ready to go after suffering an elbow injury in last Friday's 28-12 loss to the Sydney Roosters, he doubted the likelihood of James Roberts playing despite Souths coach Wayne Bennett naming his strike centre on an extended bench.
"I don't think he'll be playing this week," Cook said.
"I know Wayne's just letting him to take as much time as he needs and, whenever he's ready, he's just got to let Wayne know and I'm sure he'll be straight back in."
Australian Associated Press