Getting to know our Great Whites - Dave Cooper Sharks #3
By Sharks Historian Ashley Taylor
Long before beep tests, GPS tracking and weight sessions, a player’s effort, both at training and on game day were more often than not held to account by their teammates.
In the early days at Cronulla, that player was Dave Cooper.
Cooper’s love of football begun at Wauchope High School in the late 50’s. By his own admission, Cooper was never destined to be a scholar, this became apparent after having failed the leaving certificate for a second time.
Literacy and math weren’t Cooper’s strong points, but his love, dedication and devotion to physical fitness were, and it was from this basis that Cooper would set up the rest of his life.
Cooper’s first sporting achievement came at age 14, when he was chosen to run a leg of the 1956 Melbourne Olympics Torch relay as it passed through his hometown of Port Macquarie.
A few years later, in search of employment, Cooper was sent to Sydney. It was here he started his career in Life insurance, but more importantly met the love of his life, Helen.
In 1961, he played the one season with the Leichhardt Wanderers in the Glebe/Balmain District before being graded with the Balmain Tigers the following season.
Cooper played the next few seasons with the Tigers, winning the 1965 Reserve Grade Grand Final.
Having played off the bench in the 1966 decider against the St. George Dragons, it became apparent to Cooper that he would struggle to hold down a starting spot in a pack that included among others, Rugby League Immortal, Arthur Beetson.
In that same season, good friend Jack Danzey was playing with Cronulla in the second division. When it became known that the club were attempting to bolster their pack for their introduction to topflight football the following season, Danzey knew just the bloke. His mate Dave.
As such, Cooper was signed and went about setting those high standards all through the pre-season.
Cooper’s memory is fading of that inaugural season, but his smile when he recalls those first few rounds is not. He remembers the uncompromising surface at Sutherland Oval, the dressing sheds and even that first up win against the Roosters.
In 1971 the team won the Endeavour Cup, a competition initiated by the Sharks the previous season for those teams that finished fifth to eighth after the regular season.
Tommy Bishop is far and away the best player he played with, Cliff Watson the toughest.
Cooper recalls that on Watson’s first night of training, the side were tasked by coach Kearney to run laps and an undisclosed amount of 400m sprints until the coach had decided they had had enough. On this night, Watson, all 120kg of English muscle cartwheeled down the home straight of the first lap. A true sight to behold.
In ‘72, a year before the Sharks were to make their first ever first grade Grand Final, Cooper decided the commute from Lane Cove to Woolooware each week was too much of a burden on Helen and his young family and decided to retire, only to be coaxed over to the North Sydney Bears in 1973 for one last season.
Cooper featured on a Scanlan’s football card that season marking his immortality to the game he loved.
Cooper stayed on at the Bears for two seasons as the head trainer before being poached over to the Bulldogs at the start of the 1976 season.
He remained at the Bulldogs until 1987 which saw him establish a hard edge to a side that shared the honors that decade with the Parramatta Eels.
Cooper credits Steve Folkes and Peter Mortimer as the fittest and best trainers he had under his watch over that period.
Cooper’s love of fitness also led him to being the face of multinational company Athlete’s Foot. Cooper was there when the company took up ground in Australia. His close mate Steve Mortimer was the manager of the first store in Miranda Westfields.
Football is not Cooper’s only love, he also has a passion for running and water sports and holds membership, life membership, and other titles at a number of sporting organisations across Sydney. One of Cooper’s favorite Clubs is the Sydney Aerobics Club which he initiated to bring together a number of likeminded individuals to participate in exercise across some of the most picturesque spots around Sydney.
To this day, Cooper, now aged 81, maintains a high level of fitness insuring he does some form of exercise each morning before going about his daily activities.
Lead photo - Dave Cooper (2nd left) with Tommy Bishop and Greg Pierce