Queensland coach Ewen McKenzie wants the real Reds to stand up in their Super Rugby qualifying final against the Sharks on Saturday night – even with Quade Cooper sitting in the stands.
The door finally slammed shut on Cooper running out for the Reds in the sudden-death Suncorp Stadium clash after Queensland on Thursday night ruled out appealing the playmaker’s one-match ban for a dangerous tackle.
Despite Cooper tweeting otherwise on Wednesday night, the Reds initially explored an appeal on Thursday by requesting a transcript of the marathon judicial hearing but conceded time was not on their side.
However, McKenzie was more worried about the Reds atoning for their last performance against the Sharks.
Queensland led 17-0 in the round-four clash in Durban but were overrun 27-22, sparking an early-season slump for the defending champions.
McKenzie baulked at revenge as a motivation but made it clear he wanted to see the Reds he had groomed into Super Rugby champions strut their stuff against the South Africans.
“There were periods there where we weren’t the Reds we wanted people to know,” he said of the round-four loss.
“We are quite keen to atone for that. A win against the Sharks would certainly be a good tonic.
“You’ve got to remember the history of this team.
“Three years ago, we could barely beat anyone. Now we are … a proud side.
“We didn’t finish it off the last time against them but it is more about us than them.
“We thought we were capable of winning it. We got out of the blocks, had a good strategy and it didn’t happen – it sticks in our craw a bit.”
McKenzie claimed the drawn out saga surrounding a possible appeal of Cooper’s ban handed out after the lengthy judicial hearing on Monday night had not been a distraction.
“To be honest, the business is running that side of it. We are getting on with the Sharks and we’ve asked the players to really concentrate on that,” he said.
The Reds went 6-5 in their 11 games without an injured Cooper this season and McKenzie backed his replacement – most likely Ben Lucas – to again step up against the Sharks.
“No doubt, Quade gives us a lot but we have had to deal without him for two-thirds of the season so we have had to adapt and overcome – we will continue to do that,” he said.
“We get on with the next guy and back him to do it – that’s the culture of this team.”
The Reds will finalise their team on Friday.