Austin Cooper pops a short ball in the NRRRL under-18 grand final between Grafton Ghosts and Mullumbimby.
Austin Cooper pops a short ball in the NRRRL under-18 grand final between Grafton Ghosts and Mullumbimby. Adam Hourigan

Going places

TWO Grafton Ghosts coaches and the Gold Coast Titans development manager all agree on one thing: Austin "Aussie" Cooper has the potential to go all the way.

All three believe Cooper's size, skill and power could take him all the way to the NRL in the future.

Cooper began his sports-playing days on the round-ball pitch, moving to rugby league only when he was 10 years old.

He started at the South Grafton Rebels but, after playing in an age group above for several years, Cooper moved to the Ghosts three years ago.

His mother Janita Cooper said his journey with the Titans began about the same time, after he was selected in the Group One team for the Country Championships.

"Austin only went up there to sit on the bench for the team," Janita said.

"He managed to get some game time and just gave it his all."

It sounds like any other rep game, only there was an interested spectator in the crowd.

"Titans coach John Cartwright was there and, to cut a long story short, Austin got his first contract on his 14th birthday," Janita said.

Three years on, and Cooper has remained in the Titans' sights the whole time.

His under-16 coach Graham Fallon said there was no doubt Cooper had the ability to make it big in rugby league.

"He's got all the attributes to go all the way," Fallon said.

"There is absolutely no reason why he can't go all the way, but he has to make it happen.

"He just needs to push himself to the next level."

It was those skills that led to the front-rower playing much of this season in the under-18 team.

Under-18 coach John Frame echoed Fallon's comments.

"He's certainly got potential," Frame said.

"Aussie's more of an impact player, so it's more likely he'll be able to do more in short bursts.

"He's a strong kid with plenty of power and if he wants to make a career out of footy, which he can, he should do it soon."

Because of the distance from Grafton to the Gold Coast it is likely that Cooper will remain at the Ghosts.

Titans development manager Gavin Judd said the arrangement was directed at ensuring Cooper didn't get burnt out.

"If he were closer to the Gold Coast we would probably get him up here for the Mal Meninga Cup," Judd said. "We don't want to force him to travel the six-hour round trip three times a week to train and play games in case he gets burnt out.

"Instead of that we meet every now and again and check up on his progress."

Cooper will travel to the Gold Coast early next month for a training camp at the Titans' Centre of Excellence. There, he will undergo extensive testing, before taking to the field against a combined U16/17 Toa Samoan team.

"The game is a way of rewarding the guys for their efforts at the training camp," Judd said.

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