The 30-year-old, former Wallabies dynamo has experienced an exile from professional rugby of more than 6 months now, since Reds head coach Brad Thorn banished him from the Queensland franchise. It seems to most to be an inexplicable waste of talent, as his performances that led the side to the 2011 title remain in the public’s recent memory.
He is now playing club rugby in Brisbane, filling the stand-off spot for Souths in the Queensland Premier Rugby competition. He made his much-awaited return from injury and didn’t look rusty at all, as he bagged a brace of tries and set up a couple more as his side ran out 38-31 victors.
His handling was phenomenal, spinning fantastic skip passes, while also showing deft, silky offloads in contact. He also showed a keen eye for the try-line, beating a number of defenders for his first, before running a great support line in the 2nd half to pick up his 2nd. At a glance, it looks like he could really add something to the struggling Reds, who finished the 2018 Super Rugby season towards the bottom of the Australian conference, with just 6 wins to their name.
The options for Cooper seem to be fairly straightforward. At this stage it looks unlikely that Brad Thorn will go back on his word. He looks to be trying to build a side for the future and bring back the old Queensland mentality and culture, which he knows all to well from his State of Origin days. However, it also looks like the first-five has become a victim of rugby’s new safety-first culture, where players that make less mistakes are favoured over more highly-skilled but more risky peers.
If Cooper is to return to the Wallabies frame, he will have to take up an offer to move to one of Australia’s other Super Rugby teams. The Rebels and the Brumbies have already shown interest, with Brumbies nine, Joe Powell, stating that they would welcome the addition of the 70-cap veteran. With both of those sides performing better than the Reds this season, these look like much wiser moves for the kiwi-born playmaker, even despite his motivation to complete his own personal mission impossible in Brisbane.
With former wallaby Christian Lealifano and youngster Wharenui Hawera occupying the out-half position at the Canberra-based side, the Rebels look to be a more-suited destination for Quade. They have also been playing a lot more expansive game, than the other Australian sides, which would most definitely suit him. However, if Cooper is up for a real challenge, the Brumbies would be the place to go. Dan McKellar outlined that they would favour a more attacking style this year as well, and since then they have become one of the competition’s highest offloading teams. This has led to a lot of mistakes but the addition of Cooper’s handling may be just what the doctor ordered to help the Brumbies up the ladder.
Either way, it seems clear that Cooper needs to move if he wants to play top level rugby. It doesn’t look likely that he will feature in the NRC and he most definitely alas will not be returning to the Reds setup any time soon. Let’s hope we see him back in professional rugby sooner rather than later. Rugby fans around the globe could do with seeing his expansive game once more.