Cooper and Walters' Origin bond forged in Ipswich
GAVIN Cooper has never even attended a State of Origin game at Suncorp Stadium.
Tonight, he runs out in one of the most anticipated Origin deciders in history for the Maroons at Suncorp Stadium in the knowledge that his former Ipswich coach and current Queensland mentor Kevin Walters has the utmost faith he will do the job at hand.
When Cooper, now a premiership winning Cowboys veteran, was a 19-year-old and starting his career with the Titans he played with the Ipswich Jets under Walters in 2007 and 2008 when not required in the NRL.
The 31-year-old back-rower explains why he is thriving under Walters coaching again at Origin level.
"I think what Kevvie brings to the footy side, and he did back in Ipswich, is a relaxed environment," Cooper said.
"If you are tight off the field and have a bit of a laugh you are generally pretty tight on the field.
"And that hasn't changed since day dot when I first met him.
"He is still one of the boys, which I really like about him. I know that really resonates with all of the Queensland players.
"Kevvie has shown that he has got Queensland heading in the right direction and everyone is on board with his vision for the Maroons jersey.
"Everyone in this side has bought into it and he is leading the way."
Walters had to earn his stripes as Maroons coach and Cooper certainly had to fight hard to get a gig as a player.
For several years selectors publicly said he was close to selection, but he had to wait until he was 30 to get a crack in Game Three last year.
"It was great to get my initial chance. I know we didn't get a win but I don't think I let anyone down," Cooper said.
"I'm glad I got a second chance this year and got the win (in Game Two) because I didn't want to be known as somebody who never won an Origin game.
"I was very much looking forward to Game Two in what was a backs against the wall mentality, but that was down in Sydney.
"I'd been to a few Origins in Sydney even when I wasn't playing and saw what the atmosphere was like.
"But I have never had the chance to be at Suncorp for Origin. I've only seen it on TV.
"It is going to be a massive occasion and I can't wait."
"This team has been hard to crack for a long time," Cooper added when asked how hungry he was to get a Maroons jersey.
"For me personally, you can't kick stones about it because they have been successful. If they'd been losing every second series you'd ask a few more questions.
"But to get in the team when I did made it all the more sweet because I had to wait as long as I did.
"I know after getting a taste that I would have loved to have been here for 10 years, but that is not the case."
Walters said Cooper's attitude at Ipswich in the Queensland Cup told him early on he had a quality character in his side.
"Even back then at the NRL level, and when he was coming back to Ipswich, he was a real professional," Walters said.
"There was no ego about him.
"He was dropping down a level and sometimes players don't perform at their best and have got a poor attitude around their demise from the NRL.
"But I saw none of that in Gavin.
"It is a good wrap for Gavin and how he has been brought up by his family. It is all about respect and giving it your all with him.
"We loved having him at the Jets. We knew he was an NRL player and destined for bigger and better things, even back then."
Cooper made his Origin debut in the loss to NSW in Game Three last year.
He missed out in Game One this year but Walters said he had no hesitation in bringing him back to the starting lineup.
"In Game Two I felt that Johnathan Thurston was a big ally of Gavin's. He'd played beside him for most of his career.
"John was pretty firm on bringing Gavin back into the side.
"We saw his efforts in Game Two and I thought he was one of our better players for the 80 minutes and we need him to do that again.
"I thought defensively he was really strong as were his carries, and his combination with the Cowboys guys was really important for us."
Cooper, who hails from Murgon, has gone on to play over 250 NRL games and won a premiership with the Cowboys since his Ipswich days, but still looks back on them with a fondness.
"I had a couple of good mates up at Ipswich who were already playing like Donald Malone," he said.
"I grew up with him and we are really good mates. He was one of the grooms-men at my wedding.
"So I really felt like I fit right in, being from a small country town. Ipswich is that too.
"Then to get there and have a coach like Kevvie who is all about having fun and everyone working hard for each other, really made my time there enjoyable."