Fullback (Wing, on a few occasions for Qld)
Born Brisbane, 2 February 1952
Eastern Districts (Brisbane)
Australia: 1 test
Bruce Cooke was a sure player, safe under the pressure of the high ball, a strong tackler and a reliable clearing kicker. He has been described as not your typical redhead, lacking “the fiery temperament of many readheads” . He was, however, a model clubman; quiet, modest and never known to complain.
Cooke learned his rugby at the Christian Brothers’ College, Gregory Terrace, Brisbane where he played 55 games between 1965-1968, eight in the first XV. Cooke had pedigree on his side. His father Des Cooke played in the premiership winning University (Varsity) side against Brothers in 1941 represented Queensland in 1940. Cooke played 37 games for Queensland between 1974-1979 and a single Test match in 1979 against Ireland, losing 27-12. He was subsequently dropped from the Australian side for the more favoured Laurie Monaghan for the second test in Sydney. Bruce never made it back into the Australian side.
Cooke debuted for Queensland in 1974. The side lost narrowly to New South Wales 7-6, however, a new era had dawned for Queensland Rugby. From the mid 1970s, an impressive period in Queensland rugby emerged that would be remembered as “the Successful Seventies”. Bruce Cooke was part of the new blood that was injected into the side and during the 1974 southern tour Queensland would enjoy victories over Sydney 12-10, Victoria 15-11 and New South Wales 20-7.
An error by the QRU saw the Australian team being selected for the first match against England before Queensland had played a single game. Consequenlty, only Mark Loane and Tony Shaw were selected to play for Australia. When Queensland played England at Ballymore on 27 May, Cooke replaced Billy Andrews but Queensland morale was low and a disappointing performance would see them go down 29-3.
A poor start to the 1975 southern tour, beginning with a loss to Sydney at North Sydney Oval, saw Bruce Cooke and David L’Estrange being flown in as replacements. A 29-13 win over Victoria did not ease the 43-12 thrashing by New South Wales. But the youthful Queensland side, were however, on the threshold of their greatest days.
1976 was a very successful year for Queensland with Cooke playing an instrumental part. Bob Templeton returned as coach and the emphatic 42-4 win over the Blues gave the Queensland side renewed energy and confidence. Over the next three years, and six encounters, Queensland would remain unbeaten against the Blues. Cooke played for Queensland against the Fijians during their tour on 14 June 1976 at Ballymore setting up Paddy Batch and Greg Maloney for two of Queensland's four tries. Fiji matched the four tries, but it was Paul McLean’s five goals that gave the Maroons a 28-16 victory.
Canterbury visited the Sunshine State for the first time in 1976. With the rivalry between Queensland and Canterbury going back as far as 1896, the match at Ballymore on 4 July was no place for the feint hearted. A determined Queensland came away with their first ever win over Canterbury, 16-10, and then made their way to New Zealand for a six match tour. It was a reasonably successful tour with victories over Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Southern Sub-Unions and Northern Sub-uinons. Paul McLean described the tour as a ‘watershed for Queensland Rugby’ with a lot of new players who would provide the basis of the Queensland team for the next few years. On the New Zealand tour Cooke would play with fellow Terrace mates Chris Handy, Tony Shaw and David Dunworth. The season finished for Queensland with a victory over Australian Combined Services, 60-3 at Ballymore.
1977 was another successful year for Cooke and the Queensland side. Cooke was an important part of the team scoring heavily against New England, Mid-Canterbury, Canterbury, ACT and the Rest of Australia. At Ballymore, Queensland beat New South Wales Country on 12 June and New South Wales on 26 June. Cooke played well in both matches, scoring twice in each. On 7 August Queensland were again victorious over the Blues 18-6. The season was rounded off by the match between Queensland and the Rest of Australia, won by Queensland 19-14. The match was organised as a fundraiser for the upcoming Japan Tour, and although selected, Cooke withdrew.
In 1978 the inaugural Interdominion Championship was lost by Queensland to Canterbury, ending a record unbeaten run of 20 wins at Ballymore. Cooke was replaced, due to injury, by Roger Gould and this would be the only match he would play for Queensland that season.
According to Queensland Captain Mark Loane, Queensland was at it's peak in 1979. Cooke played in some very important matches for Queensland and would make his debut for Australia against Ireland. Prior to meeting New South Wales, Cooke had played all the games for Queensland, with victories over Southland 44-0, Manawatu 31-7, Sydney 23-6 and drawing with New Zealand Maoris 18-all. The match against New Zealand Maori, played at Ballymore before 12,000, was very demanding and Queensland were able to force a draw with a pressure goal from Paul McLean.
Cooke played fullback for the memorable match against the Blues at Ballymore on 20 May 1979. An impressive Queensland side with no fewer than five players who had captained, or were to captain Australia, comprehensively defeated New South Wales 48-10. It was an exhilarating match for Queenslanders as the crowd went into a frenzy, chanting ‘WE WANT FIFTY, WE WANT FIFTY’ with ten minutes to go. This would be Queensland’s sixth consecutive win over the Blues and a record score against New South Wales.
Ireland toured Australia in 1979 with a very strong side, impressive forward pack and an aggressive, skilful back line. Ireland had the pleasure of having two outstanding fly halves, Tony Ward and Ollie Campbell. Both were strong in attack and defence. However, Campbell with his deadly accurate kicking ability was chosen for the test matches, leaving the formidable presence of Ward on the sideline.
The first international was played at Ballymore in front of a crowd of 16,500, a game in which Bruce Cooke would play his one and only test for Australia. The Irish were impressive and had their best win of the tour beating Australia 27-12. Campbell established a new Irish international record in the game scoring 19 points, with six place kicks and a drop goal, beating the 1969 record held by John Moroney by five points . Ireland’s 27 point total was its highest in a test match, and its 15-point winning margin it’s biggest against Australia. Victory stemmed from the brilliant performance of the Irish forwards, supported by marvellous work from the halves, Patterson and Campbell. Noel Murphy, the Irish coach commented, “Our boys showed good control today. They used the ball intelligently and put pressure on Australia” . His Australian counterpart David Brockhoff, praised the Irish, “Full marks to them” he said. “They kept pressure on us and forced us into errors. We bumble-footed it away” .
Cooke then played for a determined Queensland side, avenging the previous year’s loss to Canterbury and upsetting local centenary celebration’s at Lancaster Park by beating Canterbury 19-6. Brendan Moon scored what is considered one of the greatest tries ever seen at Lancaster Park after Cooke set up by fielding a high ball in his own quarter in the dying seconds of the match. The dazzling sequence of baffling passing that enabled Moon to score under the posts, brought even the local crowd to its feet.
Bruce Cooke enjoyed an impressive rugby career. Dedicated to his club Easts, he represented Queensland during an exciting time in the history of Queensland union and also wore the Wallaby jersey against Ireland. He was a loyal, quiet and modest person who was well respected by his teammates. Born and raised in a union family, after his retirement Cooke served on the Easts' Old Boys’ committee.