Written by Callum Walker
Paul Cooke made his debut for Hull FC in 1999 – despite being an avid Hull KR fan as a youngster. By the time he swapped the west of Hull for the east in 2007, he had played 204 games for the Black and Whites, scoring 32 tries and kicking 332 goals and four drop-goals.
The rangy loose-forward/stand-off will be forever remembered on Humberside for scoring the winning try in the 2005 Challenge Cup Final as FC beat Leeds Rhinos 25-24 in a thriller. The 6 ft 5 playmaker also appeared in Hull’s only Super League Grand Final appearance in 2006 when they went down 26-4 to St Helens.
After eight years with the Airlie Birds, things turned sour in April 2007 when Cooke walked out on Hull FC to join cross city rivals Hull Kingston Rovers. The saga was mainly based around the allegation that the playmaker was frustrated with his low wage as compared to other established stars at Hull FC. Asking the board for a pay rise, the request was denied. With Hull FC refusing to increase his pay, Cooke made the move over the Humber river to bitter rivals Hull KR.
He signed a three-and-a-half-year deal with the Robins, taking effect immediately. The RFL, however, had other ideas and initially blocked the transfer, stating that his registration remained with Hull FC.
Some confusion followed amid allegations that he had never signed his contract with Hull KR, despite local media reports at the time to the contrary. Despite this cloud hanging over Cooke, the move went ahead.
The transfer continued to stir up trouble and in November 2007, an RFL tribunal found Cooke guilty of misconduct for approaching Hull Kingston Rovers while still under contract at Hull FC. His punishment included a ban that ruled him out of the first six games of the 2008 season.
Finally, though, the playmaker was able to settle into life with the Robins midway through 2008, making a major contribution to Hull KR’s seventh-place and fourth-place finishes in 2008 and 2009 respectively. Cooke, however, fell out of favour at the start of 2010 and moved to Wakefield Trinity. For Rovers, he scored nine tries and kicked 92 goals in 65 appearances.
Cooke was still only 29 years of age and offered Wakefield something different; in just 18 appearances for Trinity, the skilful ballplayer scored three tries and kicked 32 goals and two drop-goals. Cooke failed to settle and departed Wakefield at the end of 2010 to take a year out from the game.
The pull of Rugby League was too much however, and the former England international – he earned three caps with his national side in 2006 – returned to the sport as player/assistant coach with the then Championship One side Doncaster after fans and sponsors agreed to pay half his salary.
At the South Yorkshire club, Cooke combined playing for the club with a full-time job in their development department and even signed as a skills and backs coach for Rugby Union side Doncaster Knights for the 2013/14 season. In four seasons at Doncaster, Cooke played 86 times, scoring 18 tries, kicking 52 goals and two drop-goals.
After winning Championship Coach of the Year for 2014 following his success in guiding Doncaster to fourth as player/coach when former head coach Tony Miller left, in early April 2015, Cooke retired to concentrate on the managing side of things.
In June 2015 however, Cooke – then aged 34 – once more returned to play, this time for Featherstone Rovers. He turned out just ten times in a Rovers shirt and retired for the final time at the end of that season.
From Featherstone to Leigh, the former Hull star became assistant coach to Neil Jukes midway through the 2016 season, but left the club and Rugby League altogether at the end of 2017 to rejoin Doncaster Knights and take up his old job as skills and backs coach.
On his day, Cooke was simply unplayable; despite appearing gangly, the stand-off/loose-forward often had a touch of gold, creating something out of nothing and wowing crowds simultaneously. Although sometimes plagued with off-field issues, Cooke gave Super League over a decade’s worth of blood, sweat and tears and gave fans – particularly those of Hull FC – some unforgettable memories.