Quade Cooper has pulled out of his big-money switch to France and is poised to become the face of the Australian Sevens team’s charge to the Rio Olympics.
The Australian Rugby Union is set to confirm the Wallabies five-eighth has signed a four-year deal to remain in the country, opting out of his lucrative contract with European glamour club Toulon.
An announcement was to be made on Monday in Sydney but a Fairfax Media report over the weekend revealed the 27-year-old has decided to stay put and may yet find his way back to the Queensland Reds in 2017, after the club severed ties with him last month in acrimonious circumstances.
Wallabies coach Michael Cheika was giving nothing away on Sunday at Brisbane Airport, as the team departed following the miracle 24-20 win over South Africa in the Rugby Championship opener on Saturday night.
But Cheika has been a huge figure in the ARU’s talks with Cooper and his manager, Khoder Nasser, and has repeatedly underlined the importance of keeping the enigmatic star in Australian rugby.
“I haven’t been on top of it, I’ll be honest with you, this week, at all,” Cheika told reporters.
“Obviously you can see by him getting the first selection (at flyhalf) what we think about him as a player.
“With us helping him get to where he wants to go and become an even better player, we’re still yet to see the best of Quade Cooper.”
Cooper will reportedly devote all of next year to the Sevens program, and then return to Super Rugby in 2017 – most likely with the Reds, despite the manner of his departure and the dramatic breakdown in talks between Nasser and QRU chief Jim Carmichael.
It is not clear how Cooper has negotiated his exit with Toulon, but he may have paid the six-figure release fee from his own pocket given the ARU’s previous reticence towards players who renege on deals.
Cooper had an indifferent night against the Springboks but could still retain the No.10 jersey for the forthcoming Test against Argentina in Mendoza, despite Matt Toomau’s strong performance off the bench and the fact Bernard Foley is yet to be used.
But tweaks will need to be made to the playmaking department with Will Genia (knee) sidelined until the Bledisloe Cup series.
Cheika said Cooper did a “pretty nice job” but may yet shuffle his deck with the likes of Toomua, Matt Giteau and Kurtley Beale at his disposal, and halfback Nic White coming into the squad to provide competition for Nick Phipps.
“I don’t know if we delivered the platform consistently enough for Quade to get on the front foot,” Cheika said.
“Whereas Toomua is a sort of bulkier player who will almost take it on as a third or fourth back-rower as well as a playmaker.
“That’s the different profile the guys have.
“We’ve got good options there, we’ll have a look at it.”