Coops taking giant strides

IF performances in big matches can provide a ready guide, the rugby league career of Gavin Cooper could reach stellar proportions.

The lanky backrower followed up his man-of-the-match outing in last year's Colts grand final with a stunning run-on effort last month against the Clydesdales at Dolphin Oval.

In the curtain-raiser to the Broncos-Roosters trial, the youthful Cooper stood out with two tries and a number of incisive breaks from the second row.

"I have trained really well in the off-season and it has paid off with spots in the top team for both our trials," Cooper said. "I got 40 to 50 minutes against Ipswich and then was in the starting line-up against Toowoomba."

The younger brother of former Dolphins fullback and now Melbourne Storm recruit Dustin, Cooper stands out on the paddock not only because of his fearless playing style but also his build. Only prop Adam Starr towers over Cooper, who at 190 cm plus (six feet three or four inches in the old measurement) is still growing. "I weigh in at 103 kilos after adding a couple of kilos in the off-season," he said. "Starry is a bit taller than me and I've still got a couple of centimetres to go to catch him."

Cooper stood out in Grant Cleal's Colts side last season with not only his bruising defence but his awareness close to the tryline made him a danger man to most oppositions. "I'm going to concentrate on both aspects of my game this season," he said. "I know I have to lift my all-round game to reach the next level in the code."

Cooper's progress in 2003 was amazing considering he started in the club's under 18s and had to work his way into the Colts. A product of the Murgon junior league from under sevens to under 17s, he had gone to South Australia to work after leaving school at 17, but at the urging of his brother came to the Peninsula for football. "And pretty much as I got here Dustin was off to the Storm," he said. "But Redcliffe has been good to me and I find the club great in its dealings."

His performance in the 2003 grand final caught the eye of NRL scouts with several outfits offering deals. On the advice of his manager, Cooper signed a holding contract with the Roosters, so depending on how he plays this season, 2004 could be his final year in the red and white colours.

If and when coach Neil Wharton uses him should prove interesting as the Dolphins' backrow has long proved one of the side's strong points. Grant Flugge, Ben Jones, Andrew Wynyard and Danny Burke are seasoned campaigners with none of them likely to give up their spot without a fight. "Of course I'd like to crack first grade for the competition matches, but I'm happy to bide my time," Cooper said. "It's a long season and you never know what's going to happen."

Time certainly is on his side as Cooper doesn't turn 19 until August and is still eligible to play in Colts again.

The Roosters certainly are keen on Cooper as they took him, half Terry Jones and backrower Quin Smith to Sydney for internal trials at the start of the year with Jones also winning a holding contract.

Ironically, while Gavin's career appears to jump ahead in leaps and bounds, older brother Dustin has been battling injuries. A neck injury last season halted his progress before a blood infection from a leg wound delayed his start this season. Gavin made his Queensland Cup debut on March 21 at Dolphin Oval against Wynnum. Apart from scoring a try and making numerous damaging runs, he also won the Keystar Motors Players Player award.