IMAGINE being 17 years old and being seconds away from making your debut for your hometown club.

That is exactly how Mike Cooper felt as he prepared to enter the fray against London Skolars in the Challenge Cup on April 2, 2006.

The clash with Leigh Centurions tomorrow, Friday, will be 15 years to the day since the prop first appeared in the colours of the club he had supported his entire life, with his uncle Paul Cullen watching proudly from the coach’s box.

His Super League debut came a few months later in July, a try-scoring one in a 52-26 defeat at Castleford Tigers.

He may longer be the nervous teenager he was when he pulls on the primrose and blue jersey for the 238th time – still more than 100 behind “uncle Paul” – but the sense of pride has not diminished.

Cooper celebrated his Testimonial year in 2020

Cooper celebrated his Testimonial year in 2020

“The 15 years has flown by though and I’ve loved every second of it,” he said.

“Sometimes I forget it and things pull me back into line.

“I could be driving around or going for a walk and I’d see kids training with their amateur colours on.

“It kind of hits home that I was doing that at a young age, dreaming of playing for this club.

“You can take it for granted very easily and I have to keep myself in check sometimes.”

“With Paul Cullen being my uncle, it’s a good accolade for us to have as a family to have two Warrington-born players represent the club and make 600-odd appearances between us.

“It’s something I know my Grandad especially is very proud of.

“We’re Warrington fans at the end of the day and supported the club home and away.

“I was at Wilderspool for all those years through the real tough times.”

Having lived through those tough times in his formative years, he has helped bring about some halcyon days either side of a three-year spell in Australia with St George Illawarra Dragons.

He has been a part of two Challenge Cup Final-winning teams while also suffering the heartbreak of three Super League Grand Final losses.

While the good times feel all the more special for him, the bad ones feel so much worse than usual.

Sunday’s opening-day loss to Castleford Tigers was one of the latter and as a fan first and foremost, he understands the pain.

Cooper in action against Castleford on Sunday. Picture by PA Wire

Cooper in action against Castleford on Sunday. Picture by PA Wire

“It makes you take defeat harder,” he said.

“I scrutinise myself more as well as I don’t want to let anyone down.

“It’s something we’ve talked a lot about, representing this town.

“With the work we’ve done in the off-season, that’s why we were so disappointed with Sunday. We didn’t do it any justice whatsoever.

“We let Pricey and the staff down with how we performed.

“You don’t want to be playing on a short turnaround all the time but in our situation, we want to rectify what went wrong on Sunday.

“So for us, it’s a real positive that the game has come thick and fast.

“This is a great place to be from – it’s a great and successful town and the rugby club needs to match that success consistently.

“I’ll do whatever it takes to make that happen.”