Cooke supplies ammunition for Hull

Salford 12 - Hull 22
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The Independent Online

When Hull lost the injury prone but immensely talented Jason Smith back to his native Australia at the end of last season, there were those who wondered how they would fill the void he left at loose forward.

When Hull lost the injury prone but immensely talented Jason Smith back to his native Australia at the end of last season, there were those who wondered how they would fill the void he left at loose forward.

The question looked a redundant one here last night as Paul Cooke turned in a commanding performance in a role he looks ideally equipped to play.

Cooke scored one try and set up three others in a masterly display. Although Salford's industry and persistence kept them nagging away until the end - and although they could have been closer still if Chris Charles had kicked his goals - they had no comparable figure on the field.

Salford have shown early signs of being one of this season's most improved sides in Super League and they were the first to threaten when their captain Malcolm Alker, broke through and almost split the Hull defence.

His opposite number at hooker, Richard Swain, was largely responsible for the attack that put Hull in the lead after eight minutes. He set Richard Horne racing through and, although the half-back was stopped just short of the line, Cooke's long pass set Gareth Raynor over on the left wing. Salford enjoyed plenty of possession in Hull territory after that, but, despite the promptings of Luke Robinson, could not find a way through a defence that was the best in Super League last season.

Salford's own defence has been their strong suit this year, the best in the competition so far, but Hull extracted another two points from them when Andy Coley was ruled to have stamped in the tackle and Cooke, who had missed the previous conversion, put over a penalty.

Cooke was also the supplier for Hull's second try, six minutes before half-time, taking Horne's pass after Peter Lupton had made initial inroads and sending Kirk Yeaman through an inviting gap. Cooke missed the conversion, but his influence on the first half had been profound.

Salford had another long spell laying siege to the Hull line at the start of the second half and they finally made their breakthrough after 49 minutes when Cliff Beverley got the ball cleverly out of the tackle for Anthony Stewart to go over in the corner. Although he tried to bring the ball around closer to the sticks, it was still too far out for Charles to convert.

There was no panic from Hull, and, after Charles had been penalised for holding down Shaun Briscoe, the irrepressible Cooke took Swain's pass, beat the first man with some nimble footwork and reached out to touch down, this time adding the goal for good measure.

Swain and Horne both missed drop-goals as Hull looked to stretch their lead, but Salford chipped away at it when Robinson put through a kick which sat up perfectly for the speedy David Hodgson to score. Three minutes from time, Gareth Haggerty twisted his way over to make it yet another of Super League's nail-biting finishes.

But Charles could not land the goal and Salford could not do what St Helens had the previous night. In the last minute, yet another well judged Cooke pass sent Raynor through on an oblique angle for his second try.

Salford: Fitzpatrick; Hodgson, Littler, McGuiness, Stewart; Beverley, Robinson; Dickens, Alker, Rutgerson, Sibbit, Shipway, Charles.

Substitutes: Coley, Haggerty, Brocklehurst, Johnson.

Hull: Briscoe; Blacklock, Yeaman, Saxton, Raynor; Tony, R Horne; Dowes, Swain, McNicholas, McMenemy, Chester, Cooke.

Substitutes: Lupton, Higgins, Thackray, G Horne.

Referee: K Kirkpatrick (Warrington).

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