Cooke too hot for students
Ashley Finlay's brace of tries helped Cooke to a bonus point win over the students of UUC at Shaw's Bridge on Saturday, ending a four-match losing streak in the process.
With Cooke not having won since an opening day victory over Coleraine back in August and UUC rooted to the bottom of the table after four straight defeats, the game presented an opportunity for both sides to belatedly kick-start their flagging seasons and it was the south Belfast side who rose to the occasion with a convincing display.
Team captain Andy Quigley was pleased with how his teammates responded to the pressure, commenting after the game: "It's massive for us to win as we're not where we hoped to be at this point of the season but we have probably 12 new guys who have came in since the end of last season, so it'll take us time to build."
The home side began the game brightly and drove towards the line in the early stages only for the drive to be halted by the referee's whistle after UUC were penalised for having hands in the ruck.
Quigley opted to run the ball and was rewarded for his nerve when Ashley Finlay burst through the line to open the scoring.
Alan Gourley was successful with the conversion to give Cooke an early 7-0 lead and they added a further score before the game had entered its second quarter.
Richard Finlay's clever offload was well-handled by his onrushing brother Ashley and the centre broke through a series of tackles to score his second try of the half, although on this occasion Gourley could not add the extras.
Cooke have been beset with injury problems this season and were once again subjected to the sight of a player limping from the field when flanker Matt McCormick pulled his hamstring making a tackle and was replaced by Scott Finlay.
UUC got back in the game soon after when Alex McLaughlin's chip was gathered by Sam Hall and, although the winger could not cross the whitewash himself, he had Thomas McLaughlin in support to take the ball on and dot down.
Before the half concluded however, Cooke scored the try of the day with an excellent team move involving Colin Atkinson and Philip Doherty, finished off by Graham Jewhurst who had showed great determination to stay with the attack.
At half-time, UUC attempted to redress their worsening situation by bringing on former-Campbell College star Rob Haldane, whose services were not required this weekend by Malone, but it was Cooke who added the first points of the half through a Gourley penalty.
Visiting captain Ollie Millar displayed good strength to score a try that brought his side within one score but it would prove to be a short-lived resistance as just 10 minutes later Cooke earned their bonus point with a fourth touchdown.
Player-coach Colin Atkinson led by example with a huge hit to win back the ball and Ashley Finlay's speculative grubber was gathered by full-back Alex Gourley for a straightforward score to finish off the game.
With Cooke set for a run of fixtures against the likes of Bangor, Portadown, C.I.Y.M.S and Clogher Valley – the teams currently occupying the top four places in the league – the five point haul will seem especially welcome while the students will feel very frustrated by their failure to leave Shaw's Bridge with even the solace of a losing bonus point.