‘The King of Darling Street’, Rhys Cooper, has become a stalwart for Hamilton Olympic over the past years and has been one of the most consistent players across the entire league. Although he’s often found battling in the middle of the park, his great passing and scoring ability has also helped mould him into a devastating attacking midfielder. Despite only being 22 years old, Rhys already achieved a great deal, and he spoke to correspondent Quentin, about his career thus far.
Where and when did you start your junior career and how did you progress into senior football?
I moved a bit around in the early, early days of my playing career due to Dad’s work. I started at the ripe age of three and a half in Sydney where I played for two years in Under 6s and then moved to Tamworth and played two years of under 7s. I finally moved to Newcastle where I played at Swansea from U8s – U12s and I received an invite to trial for Hamilton Olympic FC 13s. Ever since then, I have been at the club except for 2013 when I was with the Emerging Jets 18s.
How did you start in seniors for Hamilton Olympic, and how did joining the Emerging Jets come about?
In 2012, I was fortunate enough to be playing well enough in the 17s and 19s and as a result, I was able to train with and fill in for the 23s at Olympic. Then, in the last game of the season, I was able to make my 1st Grade debut. After that season I was asked to join the Emerging Jets and stayed there until the start of the 2014 NPL season but was let go two weeks before the start of the season. I was lucky enough that Mick Bolch stayed in contact and had a spot open for me in the senior squad. I was always hoping to re-join Olympic should the day come so I’m very happy it all worked. I owe a lot to Bolchy.
What do you like to do in your spare time when you’re not playing football?
I do enjoy spending time with mates and eating food mostly. I do enjoy a bit of golf, even though I’m not too good at it, but there’s something about losing golf balls that I enjoy so I keep playing.
What do you do for work?
I’m a property consultant at a company called Southern Cross Investment Properties. My role is to consult and teach people how to effectively use property to retire or pay off personal/ non tax deductible debt faster and show them that it’s not as complicated as the media perceives it to be, you just have to know how to do it properly at the start!
What player has been one of your favourite players to play with and you have admiration for? Why?
I’ve been fortunate enough to play with some great players during my time in Senior Football. As a youngster, in my debut first grade season, I had Dave Hodgson and Brad Swancott leading me and teaching me what it takes to come up against men. Playing with Kane Goodchild made life easier in attack and getting “beat up” by the Swan twins at training was always fun.
I’d probably say Kyle Hodges or Jacob Bailey (who are also still at Hamilton Olympic) have been the most influential. Kyle leads from the front not only on Game Day but on the training pitch as well and his passion for the boys to do well is second to none and is extremely admirable. Bails has always been the silent assassin in midfield and does all the hard work winning the ball and breaking down the play. He’s also been out with injury a few seasons so seeing him constantly come back and do well is great!
Which player is the hardest to play against? And why?
Hardest to play against would probably be Matt Thompson from Maitland FC. He’s played at the highest level and understands the game better than any other opposition player in the comp. He plays every game hard so it’s always tough coming up against him.
You’ve been at Hamilton most your career, what is it that you love about the club?
I’m a very big creature of behaviour and for the past 10 years, Hamilton Olympic have always been a part of my life. I haven’t once disliked my football since joining the club in 2008, and even as a junior being at a Senior Club, the players, coaches and committee always made me feel welcomed. I enjoy my football there and even since the club has been through huge changes, nothing has changed in my mindset. I enjoy playing and representing the club.
You also play at a very high level in Futsal as well, which one do you prefer the most and why?
Whilst I get to go to some great places with Futsal, I do still enjoy football that little bit more. I think if I wasn’t playing NPL, I would pursue futsal further and spend more time on it, but I love putting the studs on and playing for Olympic.
Do you think futsal has helped your ability in normal football? How?
Absolutely. It’s a great game to develop strength on the ball and to gain confidence in tight spaces as the court is much smaller. It’s also played at a much higher intensity for longer periods of time, so with it being in Summer, it allows me to stay fit and keep touches on the ball outside of football season.
Most memorable moment(s) of your career so far?
Making my 1st Grade debut in the then NBN State League when I was just over 16 and a half years old was a big highlight. I wasn’t picked for the 19’s squad that year but I decided to stay at Olympic, play 17’s and try work my way through, so that was very rewarding.
Another memorable moment would have to be being asked to join the Emerging Jets in 2013 as it was the first ‘selective team’ I had made, as well as scoring a goal for the Jets First Team (In a trial match) in minus 2 degrees in Canberra was great.
I was also selected in the NNSW Select Team in 2016 (even though we didn’t get to play the Jets, I was super excited to take the field with the boys and have a run) was a great accomplishment.
In regards to a team memory, going through undefeated in 2016 was a highlight. Even though nothing really came out of it because we losr the premiership and were knocked out in the Semi Finals, it was still a special season.
Most influential person in your career?
It’d have to be Dad. Even though I lost him when I was 17, he taught me everything I know today. He was never someone who yelled out from the field or yelled at me in the car after a bad game He never rang a coach for giving me limited game time because he always taught me that if I wanted to get somewhere in the sport, I had to do it on my own. He was always there to support me and it’s his voice I still hear every time I tie my boots up.
In terms of an influential person who’s really inspired me on the field, I’d have to say Leo Bertos. Obviously, having played at a World Cup, his knowledge of the game is second to none and he’s always there talking to me on the field and at training.
What are you hoping to achieve for this year’s season?
For this year’s season I am hoping as a squad we are able to break into the Top 4 and be there at the business end of the year. This year has definitely showed that anyone can win on the day, so it’s up to us to keep growing and getting results.
What’s your plans for the future of your career? Where are you hoping to progress?
As nice as it would be to be scouted somewhere, my plans for the future are more heading towards the work side of life and focusing on setting myself up. I’m employed by a great company that is very successful so I hope to keep working there and maybe one day take the reins. I will keep playing football/futsal though as life without it after 19 seasons so far, would be far too weird.