Cool-hand Jake keen to push his Cup case
Among Jake Cooley's first competitive acts after arriving in Nelson early last year was to smash 30 runs off just eight balls in a local one-day club cricket match.
He was batting at No10 for Wanderers at the time and, although they lost convincingly to Stoke-Nayland at Brightwater, it did help provide some insight into his competitive mindset.
The 23-year-old Queenslander is still enjoying his cricketing summers, now with Athletic College Old Boys, although it is in a rugby context that the solidly built 105kg and 1.92m loose forward is starting to make a genuine impact on the local club scene.
Originally from Toowoomba, Cooley had played college rugby but had never competed at senior level until last year. He had spent two years with the Gold Coast Titans under-20 rugby league team just before arriving in Nelson, but he is now an established member of a formidable Nelson senior club team that remains unbeaten this season.
On Monday, Cooley takes his place in the Nelson Bays' Cecil Shield squad to face Marlborough at Jubilee Park in a match also doubling as a Tasman trial.
He admits to his inexperience, but he has been a fast learner, quick to appreciate the benefits of taking the shortest and most damaging route to the opposition tryline.
He is by no means a selection certainty in this year's Tasman Makos' lineup, having played for Tasman B last season but his rugged, direct approach and punishing defence probably have not gone unnoticed by those who count. It has also meant plenty of hard work after returning from his summer break.
"Since I got back after Christmas, I knew that I had to work on my fitness," Cooley said.
"And all my general rugby skills I had to work on, because it was all new to me, so I've worked pretty hard on that to get it all up to scratch."
He said was indebted to some seasoned Nelson club team-mates like Makos flanker Shane Christie and Shane Grieve for their continued advice and support. Although if the timing had been just a little different, he might now be pulling on Wanderers' blue and yellow hoops each Saturday instead of Nelson's all-blue.
He had originally aligned himself with the Wanderers club expecting to play division one rugby, only to learn that Wanderers, at that stage, were not fielding a division one team. Keen to play at the top club level, he looked elsewhere. Wanderers have since returned to division one ranks.
"I was lucky enough to meet [Nelson and Tasman player] Robbie Malneek through a friend and he said they needed a No8 at their club, so I made the move."
Cooley is canny enough to know that a strong performance against Marlborough on Monday could move him a step closer to ITM Cup squad selection and he would certainly appreciate the chance.
"I think I'm ready. I'd love the challenge to go up and play at the next level."
He plays No8 for his club but is equally at home in the No6 jersey and would even play No7 at a pinch, although his bulk and power are better utilised elsewhere.
Tasman selection aside, Cooley's first priority will be helping Nelson Bays to another Cecil Shield victory after contributing one of their six tries in last year's convincing 42-17 win at Trafalgar Park.
This time, the match will be played at Richmond's Jubilee Park due to the scheduling of a Chatham Cup fixture on Trafalgar Park. None of Tasman's contracted players are available for Cecil Shield selection.
Nelson Bays selectors Gary Stevens and Kahu Marfell will confirm their final 22 tomorrow, although Marlborough will field a strong side, including in-form Central forwards, lock Brian Utumapu and ex-Southland No8 Kaleni Taetuli, and uncompromising Harlequins prop Tim Perry.
Flanker Stu Dalzell played for Canterbury Country last year and midfielder Mike Schmidt-Lealava'a is a former Wellington representative. He broke his arm five weeks ago and will make his comeback on Monday off the bench. Midfielder Tim Halse is also a classy first-five and an ex-NZ Universities representative who has been playing first division rugby in Italy.
Monday's match will start at 1.30pm.
NELSON BAYS (from): Mike Tyler, Jarrod Aberhart, Brenton Connell (Stoke), Aomanatagi Malo, Mike Wells, Lote Niue, Tema Faifua (Huia), Lucuster Mati (Riwaka), Jason Merrett, Latham Jones, Gary Redmond, Dan Squire (Marist), Ropate Rimakama, Daniel Hytongue, Kaide Whiting (WOB), Tyler Kearns, Nui Taufa, Trael Joass, Sione Holani, Jackson Harvey, Mike Lattin (Wanderers), James Hadfield, Shane Grieve, Jake Cooley, Loui Harvey, James Lash, Mitchell Thwaites (Nelson).
MARLBOROUGH: George Millar (captain), Onolevu Temo, Jake Cresswell, Tom Halse, Ra Tamati, Daniel Hawkins, Daniel MacDonald, Kaleni Taetuli, Nathan Oakley, Stu Dalzell, Stu Campbell, Brian Utumapu, Fetu Ieremia, Gareth Archer, Tim Perry. Substitutes: Kurt Lindsay, Dan Crockett, James Pigou, Joe Stewart, Willie Alaiasa, Mike Schmidt-Lealava'a, Kieran Hickman, one to be added.
- The Nelson Mail