Graham Morven Cooke
- 278Wallaby Number
Graham Cooke was arguably the toughest second rower ever to play Test rugby for Australia. A modest country man he would have graced any Springbok or All Black scrum in his time. Cooke at, 6ft 2.5in and 14 ½ stone had an unbelievably lean and distinctive frame. He had immense hands, somewhat comparable to grappling irons, ears as big as dinner plates and enormous knuckles which stuck out like a series of stony ridges. There was not a single ounce of fat on his body.
Born in Queensland at Nanango, near Kingaroy, Cooke spent his childhood on the family farm. As such the opportunity for him to participate in organised sport was extremely limited. Aged 14, and following the death of his father, he abandoned school and went in search of a job. Cooke started out delivering papers, worked as a blacksmith striker, erected windmills and built tanks before he earned an apprenticeship as a carpenter. At 17 Cooke was prevailed upon to try his hand at rugby in south Toowoomba. His mother refused to allow it but relented once Cooke turned 18. In his first year, 1930, Cooke made the Toowoomba representative team however his big break came when he went to Brisbane and came up against Wallabies Harry Hamalainen and Max White.
Just two weeks later Cooke made his debut for Queensland. Two years later, and yet to turn 21, Cooke was selected for his maiden Test, against New Zealand, in Sydney. He started all three Tests of the first Bledisloe Cup series held in Australia and was as an automatic selection for the tour to South Africa in 1933. All in all, Cooke had a fine tour, played in three of the Tests and physically held his own against the most powerful pack in the world. Upon his return to Australia, Cooke received a cable from South Africa that offered him a job with the East Rand Proprietary Mining Co.
He accepted the position and did not return home for three-and-a-half years. During his time there he played for the East Rand Pty. Mines Club, the New State Areas Mines Club, and had the honour of representing at provincial level for Transvaal. Cooke came home in late 1937 and resumed his career with Queensland however he was overlooked for the home series against New Zealand and considered “too old” for a spot on the Second Wallaby tour to Great Britain in 1939/40. Seven years later, and by now 34 years of age, Cooke made one of rugby’s most celebrated comebacks when he was selected on the first post-war Wallaby tour, a six week jaunt to New Zealand.
Incredibly Cooke was Australia’s best tight forward on tour as he demonstrated remarkable fitness for his age, superb cunning and ruggedness in the lineout, and his trademark strength in the scrum. The crowning moment of Cooke’s career came in 1947 when he was chosen for the Third Wallabies tour to the U.K, France and North America. Highly respected rugby writer Eddie Kann did not agree with his selection. He wrote: “On form this season [Cooke is] still one of Australia's best forwards [but] should not go. At 35, he must have made a special effort to reach peak form for his representative appearances [this year]. He would hardly be likely to sustain this form on a long tour.”
How wrong Kann was as Cooke started all five Tests and played 23 matches in total. Cooke said, "We have had a tour that cost us all money, but no money could buy the fun, the companionship of team mates or the friendships we made while abroad." Cooke retired from representative rugby in 1948 but continued to play at club level, firstly for the new Souths club and then in 1949 as captain-coach of the new Police club. Unfortunately, in the very first match of the year, against Brothers, he broke his arm in the opening minutes but carried on valiantly for nearly quarter of an hour thinking it was just a bruise. When he reported to the ambulance man for treatment he was taken from the field, and the arm put in splints. The injury brought an end to an amazing 20-year career.
Cooke won his first Test cap at lock, paired with Geoff Bland, in the 1st Test, 22-17 victory over New Zealand at the S.C.G. That locking combination was retained for the two remaining Tests of that series.
Cooke partnered ‘Bimbo’ White in the opening three Tests of the away series against South Africa before an ankle injury saw him ruled out of the final two internationals.
He picked up a single cap at lock in the 2nd Test, 10-14 loss to New Zealand at Eden Park.
Cooke was chosen out-of-position at No.8 for the 2nd Test, 14-27 defeat to New Zealand at the S.C.G.
Don Kraefft and Cooke were chosen in the middle row for all five internationals played on the Third Wallabies tour to the U.K., France and North America.