In the pivotal role of first five is one of the most charismatic, and perhaps one of the most flawed, but certainly one of the most talented players to ever pull on the All Black jersey – Bert Cooke. Cooke was Auckland-born, and came to fame in the 1924 ‘Invincibles’, where he was described as one of the two best players on the tour. He was very light – reportedly an incredible 54 kg when weighed in for the tour, he convinced the doctor to bump his weight up to 63 kgs – but his pace and his instinctive flair on attack, made him a potent attacking weapon. He was induced to play for Hawke’s Bay in 1926, when a local mercer promised his a large pay rise to shift south from Auckland. Wairarapa rugby supporters sought to top that, and they bought him a partnership in a local mercer's firm and he shifted here in 1927 when he helped the local team to lift the Ranfurly Shield.
Business did not suit his temperament and he kept on travelling south after the 1928 season, playing in Wellington. His All Black career came to a halt after he showed up to training the worse for drink and he switched allegiance to the New Zealand Rugby League. His life ended in tragic fashion, being confined to an asylum after found wandering the streets suffering from dementia.
He had been disowned by rugby administrators, but for a period in the late 1920s the imperious Bert Cooke carved out a name as one of the country’s finest players.
Yesterday we had an elderly man call in to see us in the Archive, saying his father played with Bert Cooks, and his father always said Cooke was the best player ever - without fail. So today we salute the frail genius that was Bert Cooke.