By Jonty Ralphsmith
During preseason, Dandenong midfield coach Leigh Stewart anointed the nickname ‘extras king’ for Cooper Simpson.
Despite being on the road back from glandular fever dating back to the 2022 finals series, he quickly clicked into gear.
The teenager was all the hype going into 2023 after a glittering bottom-aged year.
Simpson last year skippered the Stingrays for a game, kicked a match-winner to cap a polished best-on-ground performance in a crunch match against Gippsland and was consistent throughout September.
Injuries denied him continuity and external plaudits this season, but the Rays co-captain still took the right steps, recognised by those who matter.
Expected to be picked in the second round, partially because of the interrupted 2023, he’ll be a bargain for whoever takes the punt.
“If I’m lucky enough to get drafted, that’s where I’d envisage spending the rest of my life at,” Simpson said.
“I want to be a one-club player wherever I go and I’ll give my all to that club.
“I’m a loyal person, loyal to my teammates and loyal to the (Stingrays) and I’m an honest person, so I love seeing blokes develop and get great joy from seeing people get better as a human.”
The attention to detail that earned him the preseason nickname was commonplace throughout 2023.
Simpson recalls a night where he was doing ground balls with Stewart after a mid-week training session at Shepley Oval.
That pair and iconic property steward Frankie Martinez were the only ones left at training when the lights got switched off.
“He’s always looking for something extra to do and it’s nothing sexy or fancy, it’s just ground-ball or midfield craft,” Stewart said.
“He wins the footy so well but we wanted to make a point of him being last hands on the footy.
“When he was the last link in the chain, it was better for us as a team and it could showcase his beautiful kick.”
At home, Simpson had an NFL punter’s net to help hone his sizzling kick.
For Christmas last year, the first present he opened was a rebound net.
Another tool to work on his touch.
“My cleanliness, I put a lot of work and time into my hands and my kicking on both sides of my body,” Simpson said.
“I think I’m a hard worker offensively and defensively and that’s where I can get a lot of teams.”
But the year didn’t play out the way Simpson had hoped – and it was out of his control.
Following the glandular fever in preseason, a corkie kept him out of round one.
And then the major blow: a corkie suffered in the first Vic Country game.
“It felt like a sledgehammer going into the side of my leg,” Simpson recounted of the incident at Ikon Park, Carlton.
“I was in a lot of pain.
“I was super ready for that game, I’ve been dreaming of that opportunity for so long and then it got taken away from me pretty quickly.”
When he did play, there were pleasing signs.
He held his own in a pair of AFL Academy games against state league sides and made his senior debut for Casey.
In his eight games as co-skipper of Dandenong, there were several high points, including finishing the year well on the wing.
“We’re really happy he bought into that [wing role],” Dandenong coach Nick Cox said.
“That’s probably where he can play straight away in the AFL I would have thought, on a wing or high half forward.
“It was good he was able to showcase that as the season finished and he hit the scoreboard as well.”
“He’s an ultimate professional and a ready made AFL player.”