Cook hoping to achieve success with the Bulldogs

Saturday, September 15, 2018 - 3:14 PM by Chris Pike

RYAN Cook has done it all with South Fremantle since arriving in 2011 besides playing in a Grand Final and winning a premiership and he hopes that both can happen over the next eight days.

Cook decided to make the move to Western Australia and join South Fremantle back ahead of the 2011 season following his four-year stint in the AFL with Collingwood where he played 14 matches and was a strong performer at VFL level.

He had no possible idea that he would end up wanting to call Perth home now even beyond his playing career, but the mark he has made at the Bulldogs has seen him achieve everything now except play in a Grand Final and win a premiership.

Cook had every reason to expect team success when joining South Fremantle too given the Bulldogs had won premierships in 2005 and 2009, and had only missed finals once in the previous seven years under coach John Dimmer.

Then in that first season, the Bulldogs did make finals, losing to Subiaco in the first semi-final, and Cook made such an immediate impact that he was the 2011 fairest and best winner and then appointed captain for 2012 with Paul Hasleby taking over as coach.

Cook would go on to remain captain up until the start of 2018 when he decided to pull himself out of the running but by leading the Bulldogs into battle 117 times, he is the longest-serving captain in the club's rich history.

Along the way he has won another fairest and best award while being runner-up two other times, has earned life membership by playing 150 games at South Fremantle and played state football representing WA six times.

The only thing missing now is a Grand Final appearance as South Fremantle prepares to play in its third straight preliminary final this Sunday against West Perth at Fremantle Community Bank Oval.

The Bulldogs did take the challenge right up to Subiaco last Sunday in the second semi-final before losing by 18 points, but Cook and his teammates came away feeling they could go well if they get past West Perth on Saturday and book a place in the Grand Final against the Lions at Optus Stadium.

"We were flat we didn’t win it because we felt we had our chances. We went into it saying let's take this and Subi have been great for so long, and obviously their undefeated record this year speaks for itself, but we just have this self-belief within our group," Cook said.

"We've played a lot of footy together and we know what we can produce. When we click and bring it, I think we match them which we showed for most of the game which is good to know if we get to play them again."

While South Fremantle goes into Sunday's preliminary final having won nine straight matches against West Perth including a 98-point win in the qualifying final at Fremantle Community Bank Oval a fortnight ago, Cook expects that to count for nought this week.

With a Grand Final spot on the line and given the Falcons responded well to that thumping two weeks ago to beat Claremont by 53 points, Cook knows there is no easy road to Optus Stadium for the Bulldogs against the Falcons.

"I think it's all just wiping your mind clear of everything in the past and you just focus on the week ahead. We've trained really well this week and all the boys are up and about, and we have pulled up well after such a physical game against Subi," he said.

"We are certainly not flat heading into this week after a loss and West Perth is a team we respect a lot and they've been good all year. They jumped us on the ladder in the second half of the year and we managed to get back in second spot late, but that game two weeks ago doesn’t matter. 

"The game before that was five points and it's going to be a bloody good challenge for us this week. We don’t think back to that first final and think about that win, we just have to go about our business, through our processes and rock up to the game with the right mindset and have a red hot crack."

Given the run of finals appearances and success South Fremantle had prior to Cook's arrival, he had every reason to expect that to continue. But after that 2011 first semi-final loss to Subiaco, he didn’t get to play in another final until 2016.

South Fremantle beat West Perth in the qualifying final that year too before losing to Subiaco in the second semi-final and then Peel Thunder in a preliminary final on home turf.

Then last year, the Bulldogs again finished in second position but this time lost to Peel in the qualifying final and then hammered Swan Districts in the first semi-final to set up a preliminary final match up with the Lions.

That ended up being a second straight preliminary final loss for the Bulldogs and now they are back for a crack for a third straight year and with Cook knowing that time for him and a host of other South Fremantle veterans is winding down, they can't let this chance slip.

"We are really desperate. It's been a ton of work we've put in for a long time now," Cook said.

"With Curls coming in and during his tenure, we've built every year and back in 2016 we finished 15-5, then last year 16-4 and this year 13-5 with the couple of games taken out. We are definitely keen to jump the prelim hurdle and get to the big dance that's for sure.

"We know that some of us are starting to get on a bit and we know that, the footy world knows that but there isn’t any need to speak about it as a group. We don’t need that as motivation, the motivation is bigger than us individuals as a whole playing group.

"We look at our fans and 2009 was our last premiership so it's bigger than the group. There is the whole club, the board, the staff, the coaches and our fans that we play for. 

"We haven’t mentioned that end is near for some of us but it is in the back of the mind, who knows how long a few of us have left.

"Any finals series, everyone is on a level playing field and now it's down to Subiaco, West Perth and South Fremantle in the race to win it. We're very fortunate to be in this position and are looking forward to it."

Compared to his remarkably high and consistent standards over his entire career at South Fremantle, Cook's first half of the 2018 had him thinking that time might have been knocking on his career.

However, Cook is finishing the season in outstanding form averaging 24.2 possessions over the last six games of the home and away season, and then continuing that into the finals so far against West Perth and Subiaco.

"It's been good the past four, five or six weeks or maybe a bit longer than that. I did have a bit of a slower pre-season I suppose you could call it, I was allowed to just train once a week before Christmas and Curls was really good with me," Cook said.

"I backed off a bit and did about 75 per cent of the pre-season and the slower start might have been a bit due to that. 

"But I'm 30 now so the body slows down a fair bit even though mentally I'm still about 16. I have been feeling a lot better late in the season, and the sun has been out the last few games and the grass smells a bit nicer in September and that excites me a lot."

Cook is yet to make up his mind whether to join Ashton Hams in retirement at the end of the 2018 season or to look to play on for at least one more season in 2019, but it certainly won't be his body letting him down that will lead to that decision.

Cook is finishing the season in good form and good health, but winning a premiership might provide the ideal farewell while he'll also have to weigh up if mentally he can get through another season, and how it mixes in with the rest of his life as he moves into his 30s.

"To win a premiership would be unbelievable and then I'll just weigh everything up at the end of the season. I've been tossing and turning with it and waiting to see how I feel but my focus is just on this Sunday to be honest," he said.

"It's a big game against West Perth, hopefully we can put in a good performance and get up, and meet Subi on Optus Stadium in a first Grand Final for most of us. There's that to think about but also just life and work, and whether it's time to move on to turn the page and start a new chapter."

Whether Cook leaves at the end of this season, next season or in a couple of years from South Fremantle, he has no doubt that with the likes of Noah Strom and Chad Pearson down back, and then Kyle Russell, Brandon Donaldson and Jake Florenca, that the Bulldogs' future is bright.

"Those guys have blossomed just with the opportunities they've got. Noah Strom got his opportunity in Round 1 when his brother Zac went down and he got his chance, and he's just excelled with it," Cook said.

"He has been really exciting and he reminds me of Dustin Fletcher down there with the big go-go gadget arms. Just his one-percenter stuff is great and he's neat by foot too so he's done really well for us this year. 

"Chaddy Pearson has stepped up and so has Kyle Russell, and Donaldson and we have Jakey Florenca there ready once some of the older heads go to go in the midfield. The club is in a really healthy position with those guys coming through."