Hard fought victory at Portadown
Cooke’s early season form was tested by a physical Portadown side in perfect playing conditions at Chambers Park. The team welcomed back veteran prop Russell Hunter while new signings second row Fraser Orr and prop Ross Dunning made debuts for the 1st XV.
The visitors started the game confidently but, like last week, the pack took time to settle in the set piece, losing their first two line outs and struggling to contain the much heavier Portadown scrum. Fifteen minutes into the game it was the Cooke backs who once again set the game alight. Winger Andy Pollock gathered the ball in his 22 and set off towards the Portadown line. His chip ahead was carried over by a home defender giving Cooke territorial advantage. Within two minutes the same player collected a reverse pass from out-half Hanna deep in the home 22 to scamper under the Portadown posts. Hanna added the simple conversion.
Less than 10 minutes later the Portadown defence was again out-foxed when Pollock left his wing and linked with fullback Phil Cartmill who cut through untouched for Hanna to convert.
Portadown now appeared stung into action and aggressive play by the home forwards in the Cooke 22 was finished off by second row Aaron Abraham who crossed the line in the corner. Adamson’s conversion attempt went wide. The home pack continued to harass the Belfast side up until half time which saw industrious Cooke flanker Ian Anderson leave the field with a head injury. Half time Portadown 5 : Cooke 14
The county Armagh side commenced the second half enthusiastically with the contribution of substitute forward Karim Ah clearly obvious. Cooke’s woes were added to when influential scrum half Ryan Flavelle had to retire with a knee injury. The visitors continued to absorb intense pressure but sloppy passing by the Portadown back-line squandered scoring opportunities.
Perhaps the best try of the game came midway through the half. The ball was spread to Cooke centre Michael Cartmill who carried deep into the Portadown 22. Prop Jonathan McClune was in support and with pace and footwork normally associated with half-backs, barged over the Portadown line for an unconverted score. Portadown responded within 5 minutes when bulky left winger Jack Orr sprinted diagonally across the pitch to score an unconverted try in the corner.
Seeking the bonus point try Cooke launched a series of attacks which were repelled by a resolute Portadown defence. With 3 minutes of play remaining Cooke were awarded a penalty in front of the Portadown posts. In a fatal lapse of concentration, when the defenders assumed Cooke would kick to the corner, captain Kyle Mitchell took a quick tap and moved the ball towards the wing. Ever present number 8 Jonny Walsh was on hand to oblige with the final “bonus point” score of the game. Final Score Portadown 10 : Cooke 24
This was an extremely encouraging result for a young Cooke side that oozes confidence. There is however room for improvement, especially in the set pieces, and competition for places should sharpen focus. While Portadown will have been disappointed by the side’s high number of handling errors, many of these were forced through astute defending by Cooke. Man of the Match was second row Fraser Orr for his outstanding work rate throughout the afternoon.