BY GRAHAM COX
“Perhaps not, but at least I’m the best player in my family,” was the retort Jimmy Ormond made when former Australian batsman Mark Waugh questioned his ability to be playing for England.
It’s a comment that won’t be lost on Mark Cooke.
After all, wasn’t it good enough for the Blackheath player to shine not only at rugby, but also cricket, cross-country running and swimming, only for brother Jamie, two years his senior, to go and become an Olympian in Modern Pentathlon, an event demanding excellence in no less than five different disciplines.
The elder Cooke would achieve a creditable 14th at Rio in 2016, but has recently become Britain’s first world champion in the event for 25 years.
Not that Cooke junior has fared all that badly.
With their father in the RAF, the siblings had a nomadic childhood which took in Cyprus, Lincoln – where Mark spent seven years playing as a youth with the town rugby club – and finally Cheltenham, where he made his debut for the Tigers at the age of 17.
He had also had trials for Gloucestershire Cricket Club, represented the same county at cross-country, and won plenty of swimming accolades.
“Rugby picked me really,” said Cooke. “Liam Middleton and Matt Sherratt did some coaching with Cheltenham and opened a door at Bristol for me.
“I did pre-season with them and kept up my links while I spent three years at University of Cardiff, playing in the B&I Cup.’
While studying for his degree in Sports & Exercise Science, he appeared for England Students, played in the BUCS final – losing to Durham – as well as the B&I Cup final for Bristol.
In 2014 he was loaned to Rotherham, making four appearances for the Championship side, before moving on to Jersey a year later.
Cooke decided in the summer of 2016 it was time to leave the Channel Island idyll behind, as well as full-time rugby, and joined Blackheath at the same time as securing a job as a sales representative, initially with Land Rover, but now with Stryker who specialise in medical equipment.
He is in his third season at Well Hall, he has no less than 64 National League One appearances with Blackheath to his name at either inside-centre, or more recently at fly-half, having accumulated 12 tries in a total of 149 points.
“I’ve had to roll back a few years to my younger days of wearing the 10 shirt,” said Cooke.
“It’s where I grew up playing until Andy Robinson at Bristol convinced me to put some weight on and try the centres. I enjoy the challenge of trying to take control of games.
“With all of our frontline kickers injured, trying to dust down the kicking tee to get it functioning has been interesting.”
“Hannah [his wife] is a reluctant rugby watcher. I don’t blame her for it being forced upon her for so long.
“Mum and dad will be at games at any opportunity, no matter the distance, and Jamie will avidly follow the Twitter feed from whatever country he is currently in, liaising with dad in the family WhatsApp group, and giving their expert opinions of what I should have done better and what they can teach me next.”
Cooke lines up for Blackheath against Loughborough Students at Well Hall tomorrow. Kick off is 3pm.