Cooper on track for Dragons’ 2013 campaign

His mind is willing and his body is able – and that’s enough to convince Matt Cooper playing beyond 2013 is not out of the question.

Having survived what Dragons players have described as the toughest pre-season in years, Cooper yesterday hinted that thoughts of joining fellow Red V stalwarts Ben Hornby and Dean Young in retirement were premature.

‘‘I had some surgery at the end of last year just to fix up minor injuries I had throughout [last] year,’’ 33-year-old Cooper said.

‘‘It’s been great and I’ve had a great pre-season.’’

Pressed on whether his body was capable of carrying him into 2014 and beyond, the veteran of seven Tests said: ‘‘At the moment, yeah it does. Ask me that question in June or July and I might have a different answer.

‘‘At the moment the body feels really good and I feel like I could play a couple more seasons. It’s too early to tell and obviously come mid-year I’m going to have to make that decision.’’

Cooper’s desire to ask for a contract extension if his often injury-plagued body allows would help offset the Dragons’ thinning experience stocks. St George Illawarra watched all-time games leader Hornby (273 games) and Young (209 games) hang up the boots last season, while the hard-nosed Beau Scott fled to Newcastle over summer.

Matt Cooper, centre, back at Dragons training last month. Picture: ORLANDO CHIODO

If he was to embark on a 15th season in the NRL, Cooper, a veteran of 235 appearances, would also have the chance to usurp Hornby’s record.

Cooper said the club had already unearthed several willing leaders in the absence of Hornby and Young.

‘‘There was a couple of years ago when Shaun Timmins, Trent Barrett and Luke Bailey left,’’ Cooper said.

‘‘That was a bit of a change. This year with Dean and Ben going, there’s a new group of leaders stepping up.

‘‘The likes of Brett Morris, Jason Nightingale and Dan Hunt – players like those blokes have really stepped up this year and have turned into great leaders.’’

St George Illawarra will begin their 2013 campaign with a trial against North Queensland in Cairns next Saturday.

Cooper said he would take part in the Cowboys hit-out and the Charity Shield duel with Souths on February 22, matches crucial to a daunting month for the Dragons.

‘‘If you have a look at the draw we have a really tough opening few weeks. Round one against Melbourne in Melbourne is going to be a tough game and we’re looking to start the year with a couple of wins.’’

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