Bert Cook featured prominently in Sir Edwin Airey’s post-war team-building plans from the moment he turned out at Headingley with the touring New Zealand Army XV on lOth November 1945. And no wonder, for apart from contributing two penalty goals and a conversion towards the defeat of a Northern Services XV that included Albert Johnson, Gareth Price, Alan Edwards, Ernest Ward, Cliff Evans and Ike Owens, his immaculate fielding, phenomenally long touch-finding and bravely adventurous running, constantly caught the eye. Indeed, for all he insisted that he had no intention of turning professional, his sole ambition being to merit selection for the renowned All Blacks, Leeds kept the tabs on the man born at Wairoa on 24th December 1923.
Some day! It might well have been never, had meddling Fate not intervened. As it was, no sooner had an untimely ankle injury put him out of the running for the one honour he coveted above all other, than a tempting offer lured him to Headingley at the psychological moment, with Leeds making history as the first Rugby League club to fly a Dominion player to this country. What’s more, the likeable, fresh-complexioned 23-year-old who stepped from the plane on New Year’s Eve in 1946 was a pioneer, blazing a trail for a veritable invasion from Down Under (Arthur Clues, Lionel Cooper, Pat Devery, Johnny Hunter, Harry Bath)
A chunky figure, glowing with good health, Bert was unlikely ever to forget his first twelve months at Headingley: four debut goals against York, with 17,000 sport-starved spectators ‘taking to him’ from the start; the dawn of a new Ice Age, resulting in mass cancellations for five weeks on end; the 1st and 2nd Round Challenge Cup victories over Barrow and Hunslet; the stupendous, never-to-be-forgotten goal from all of fifty yards, that defied a Central Park swamp and inspired the men up-front to a gruelling 3rd Round triumph over mighty Wigan; the Semi-Final rout of Wakefield Trinity by 21 points to nil. .. and then, the Wembley dream that turned into a nightmarish anticlimax against Bradford Northern, followed six months later by a one point defeat at the hands of Trinity in a Yorkshire Cup Final replay at Odsal.
Nor was there to be any redemption, the Loiners going down two years running with Semi-Finalitis. Or was it Odsalitis? At all events, their crest-of-awave hopes of returning to Wembley in 1950 were dashed by Warrington; and the anguish was far greater a year later, with Bert doing more than enough to lay the Odsal bogy, his four goals and a try giving ‘Dolly’ Dawson’s men a splendid nine-point lead, yet only for Barrow to force a replay and then waltz to victory at Fartown by 28 points to 13.
So that, well as he continued to play during his time at Headingley, the solitary winner’s medal that came his way was for the 1951 Yorkshire League Championship. What matter the medals were few and his representative honours limited to just two games with Other Nationalities, Bert was both an accomplished player and a crowd-pleaser, sharing his enthusiasm and sense of enjoyment with the man on the terrace. Of his many outstanding displays in Leeds colours, none was more thrilling than that at Fartown on 18th November 1950, with the Loiners trailing by 16 points to 7, and barely fifteen minutes to go, a magnificent Bruce Ryan try, crowned by Cook’s superb goal from the touchline, and now there were only four points in it. A sudden burst into the line, and Cook was there again, to send full-back Hilton sprawling with that inimitable steam-piston hand-off, before hurtling over in the corner. Now everything depended on the conversion, but that was never in doubt, for the man with the smallest boots in the game (and an odd pair at that, one being a 4Yz and the other a 5) was dead on target, to give Leeds their first win at Fartown since the war.
Apart from one season from Ernest Pollard in 1936-37, the Loiners had lacked a specialist goal-kicker ever since Joe Thompson’s retirement in 1933, but not any longer! Establishing a new Club record with 115 goals in 1949-50, Bert surpassed that the following season with a massive 150. Moreover, he notched up twelve against York at Headingley on 29th August 1949, to equal the record jointly held by J. H. Potter and E. Pollard.
Appointed coach to The Rugby Football League in 1951, and released by Leeds in September 1953 to take over as player-coach at Keighley, he put in a 3-year stint at Lawkholme Lane, before helping out in a similar capacity at Crown Flatt, where he turned out for the last time on 8th April1958, against Rochdale Hornets.
Associated with Andrews, the Tile and Flooring Specialists, prior to setting up in business in Leeds on his own account, Bert eventually settled happily in Boston Spa. A true sportsman, who knew not only how to win, but how to lose with a smile.