By NEAFL MEDIA
Sydney University defender Nathan Cooper’s transition from rising star to regular senior player took a giant step forward last Saturday.
The 20-year-old was named among the Students’ best in their tight 10-point victory, playing a shutdown role on Aspley forward Jono Freeman to earn the Round 7 Tribal Sport NEAFL Rising Star nomination.
It was his second nomination for the award after being named best-on-ground last year when he kept five-time NEAFL Leading Goalkicker Darren Ewing goalless in their clash with NT Thunder in Darwin.
A former member of the Sydney Swans Academy, Cooper made his NEAFL debut back in 2015 for the Swans before joining the Students last year.
Although still only 20 years old, Cooper said he feels more settled at the club.
“Having a few more younger guys come in to the side this year, and another year of experience under my belt, I’m started to be a bit more loud on the field,” he said.
“I’m trying to not be a young guy filling in and playing for a spot each week, but actually being strong and a regular part of the team.”
The rugby convert, who came through the Pennant Hills junior ranks, began making the backline his home in 2016 when he was part of the Swans’ Under-19 squad, and earned a spot in their NEAFL Grand Final team.
He had breakout season for the Students in 2017, playing in 17 matches and earning NEAFL representative honours against Tasmania as well as a Rising Star nomination.
On Saturday against the Hornets, Cooper was handed the job on former Brisbane Lions forward Freeman where he collected 15 disposals and 10 spoils in the Students’ win at Graham Rd.
Cooper said the match-up against Freeman was a good challenge, as he hopes to build on a strong 2017 season.
“It was a learning curve in that first quarter (against Freeman),” he said.
“At quarter-time I spoke to the coaches and adapted. From then on I changed my positioning on him and tried to shut him out of the game a bit more.
“Consistency is my goal this year, and being able to play good footy week-in, week-out.”
The Students remain undefeated so far in 2018 and moved to the top of the ladder this week, ahead of a clash with sixth-placed NT Thunder at Blacktown on Saturday.
Sydney University has been knocked out of the finals race in the Preliminary Final for the past three years.
But Cooper said another season under coach Tom Morrison – who took over last year – has made the side stronger.
“We’ve been playing really well as a team. We’ve been challenged a bit but have always come out on top and finish off games, which has been good,” he said.
“I think having that extra year of experience playing with each other under ‘Morro’, we’re full of confidence at Sydney Uni that we’re going to be able to go one better than last year.
“It’s been the end game for the club the last few years (to make the Grand Final) and so we’re quite confident we can be there at the business end of the season and get the job done.”
The Tribal Sport NEAFL Rising Star is awarded to the most promising young talent in the NEAFL competition.
Nominees must be under the age of 21 and played less than 20 senior games (excluding games as AFL Academy players) at the start of the 2018 season.
Keep track of all our 2018 nominees here.
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