By STEVE SPINKS
HE may not have won Mr Beef Week but Englishman Andy Barker has won a lot of respect at the Casino Rugby League Club.
Barker, along with Leeds mate Jason Blakey, will be key men for the Cougars when they take on South Tweed in round 13 of the Northern Rivers Regional Rugby League competition at Queen Elizabeth Park, Casino, tomorrow.
The 19-year-old has been one of the Cougars best during a season in which they have struggled.
However, Casino staged the most remarkable upset of the season last weekend when they knocked over the high-flying Cudgen Hornets at Cudgen.
Barker and Blakey both come from Leeds club, the Milford Marlins.
They were enticed to Casino by a couple of English mates ? Adam Hayes and Danny Mills ? who played for the Cougars in 2003.
Despite living in a soccer mad area, Barker said the duo always played league.
"We were brought up with it," Barker said.
"Our Dads coached and we both played at the same club."
Blakey is a couple of years Barker's senior at 21.
At the start of the season, the Englishmen must have been wondering what they got themselves into, especially after a 90-point flogging by the Tweed Seagulls.
But much has changed following last Sunday's surprise victory over Cudgen.
"We didn't start off so good," Barker said.
"But it was a good win last weekend and we should be able to pick up a few more wins in the next couple of games."
The second-rower believes the NRRRL compares favourably with the competition the duo were playing in back home.
"I think the defence here is a lot stronger," Barker said.
"But that probably suits me and Jason as our game is a bit more defensive."
As for his failed Mr Beef Week attempt, the Englishman is not too worried.
"They (Cougars team-mates) put me in it," he chuckled.
He didn't mention if the beauty pageant had made him more popular with the Casino ladies. Barker will head home in September to start a degree in sports performance.
Blakey on the other hand may stick around. Coach Cavill Heugh is trying to convince the tough hooker to try out for a Queensland State League team.