Quade Cooper looks likely to get first crack at the Wallabies No.10 jersey on Saturday night and lay down the platform for a shot at World Cup redemption.
Nearly four years on from his humiliation at the hands of the All Blacks in the 2011 World Cup semi-final, Cooper appears to be the frontrunner to fill Australia’s five-eighth role – at least for the opening Rugby Championship clash with South Africa, if not beyond.
Coach Michael Cheika is a Cooper admirer and there is merit in seeing what the mercurial 27-year-old can offer the Wallabies against the Springboks and then Argentina in Mendoza the week after, rather than sticking with incumbent Bernard Foley.
There will be no time for experimentation in the two Bledisloe Cup Tests and also no better venue to unleash Cooper than at Suncorp Stadium, his beloved home deck where he has produced arguably his best rugby for club and country.
Cheika is yet to settle on his starting side for Saturday, but early indications suggest he seems to be leaning towards a halves combination of Cooper and Will Genia, with either Matt Giteau or Matt Toomua at inside centre.
“I’ve been really, really pleased with what he’s done so far,” Cheika said of Cooper.
“A lot of good energy, a lot of good communication from him in organising troops around him.
“We’ve got a lot of different combinations we can play – today he was playing with Matty Toomua next to him, he could be playing with Giteau next to him like he did on Friday.
“It’s probably maybe just having a look and seeing who’s playing best together.”
A Cooper-Genia-Giteau playmaking nucleus would hark back to the famous Hong Kong Test of 2010, when the Wallabies edged the All Blacks in thrilling style to end a 10-game losing streak to New Zealand.
Cooper has fond memories of that game and of playing alongside Giteau.
“It was a tough battle and one of probably the best Test matches I’ve been a part of,” Cooper said.
“It’s been good having Gitty back in Australia.
“I really relished the opportunity to play with some of the guys I got to play with in that game and just having him back here is great, not only for myself but the younger guys who wouldn’t have had the opportunity to play with him.”
Cooper, whose post-World Cup future is still very much up in the air, has had a wretched run with injury this year but said he felt in good physical shape.
He was restricted to just five Super Rugby games for the Queensland Reds due to two separate shoulder fractures, then injured his shoulder again towards the back end of the season.
“I’m not going to lie, injuries are very tough mentally to overcome,” he said.
“It’s something that’s a work in progress but I’m feeling good.”