stu37, I'm not sure if this will help any with your slow loadin of Sun Java, but these are some settings tips given me by a couple of great guys, and they just might help...
I usually turn off the auto updates. Not just for Java, but for all my programs. I don't like software doing stuff without my say-so.
You should leave the cache on, though, if there's sites that you visit regularly that use the same applet. Like for example, I think you said you play a Yahoo Pool game that uses Java. It'll render quicker if it's cached to disk.
If you don't visit many sites that use Java, you can turn off caching to save some disk space, or just lower the amount of disk space it uses (like to 10 Megs or something liek that).
Most importantly, though, under the Basic tab, make sure you select "Do not start Console". This will stop the console from running everytime the plugin gets used. The console is only needed for developers and debuggers. You won't need that.
Make sure the java runtime enviroment is set to use JRE and not the java plugin default.
Adjust the settings so the icon doesn't load in the tray.
Uncheck "show java in system tray"