RUGBY LEAGUE : Eminent Cook defies elements

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The Independent Online
Great Britain Academy 36

France 0

In conditions where merely to catch a ball was an achievement, Great Britain's under-19s, led by a virtuoso performance from Leeds' Paul Cook, played infinitely better than anyone had the right to expect in submerging their French counterparts last night, writes Dave Hadfield.

A match that had three previous venues ruled out by the weather finally found a home, albeit a waterlogged one, at Leigh's Hilton Park and it was perhaps not surprising that the British side settled to the appalling conditions the quicker.

After spending the first three minutes on the attack, two players with a fair smattering of First Division experience combined, Wigan's Kris Radlinski sending Chris Smith, of Castleford, in at the corner.

France exerted plenty of positional pressure, but the farcical conditions made ball-handling virtually impossible for them, and their attacks came to nothing. Britain, on the other hand, made the most of their chances, breaking out of defence for the Wigan hooker, Phil Cantillon, to slide over and Cook to land the conversion.

Cook, one of Leeds' many promising youngsters, was soon on the scoreboard again when he took the busy and creative Sean Long's pass to beat the French defence with an angled run which, on this sort of going, was freakishly well-balanced. Cook also added the goal.

Cook was soon at it again, more sure-footed than anyone on the rapidly deteriorating pitch as he raced in from fully 60 yards out for his second try. The Leeds player underlined his all-round value by then landing a superb goal from the touchline.

With the rain now driving at their backs and the pitch reduced to the consistency of French onion soup, Britain extended their lead five minutes into the second half, Radlinski and Smith repeating their double act for the Castleford wing man to score hissecond try.

With Leigh's groundsman by now contemplating suicide, another of the game's fruitful combinations struck again, with Cook completing his hat-trick from Long's pass as Britain continued to defy the elements. Goal-kicks by this stage could hardly be liftedclear of the water. The Warrington loose forward, Paul Sculthorpe, was another of Britain's best players and he deservedly scored their final try.

Cook's kick from a small island brought up his individual tally to 20 points. A hooter seven minutes early was an act of mercy towards both sides.

Great Britain: Cook (Leeds); Smith (Castleford), Radlinski (Wigan), Roper (Warrington), McAvoy (Salford); Long (Wigan), Longo (Dewsbury); Fozzard (Leeds), Cantillon (Wigan), Knowles (Wigan), Tonks (Castleford), Barrow (Widnes), Sculthorpe (Warrington). Substitutes: Maher (Leeds) for Smith, 62, Southern (Salford) for Fozzard, 56, Golden (Leeds) for Roper, 45, McDonald (Wakefield) for Longo, 57.

France: Rambello (Toulouse); Brown (Avignon), Alonso (Lezignan), Verges (St Esteve), Manin (Lezignan); Cazemajou (Tonneins), Denis (Albi); Legoff (St Gaudens), El Kalouki (Toulouse), Ourandane (Albi), Frayssinet (Albi), Pujol (St Esteve), Cambres (Catalan). Substitutes: Barthe (Carcassonne), Gonzalez (Limoux).

Referee: M Chanfreau (France).