Four years after being left shattered by a brutal Rugby World Cup campaign in New Zealand, Wallabies playmaker Quade Cooper insists he’s primed to eradicate those mental demons.
The Auckland-born Cooper was at the centre of a media storm at the 2011 World Cup, where he was made public enemy No.1 by the rugby-loving nation.
The intense pressure built up to the point where it became a distraction for the Australian team, who bowed out in a semi-final loss to hosts New Zealand – with Cooper ending the tournament a shell of the match-winning playmaker he had the potential to be.
Heading into the 2015 World Cup, 27-year-old Cooper feels far more mature and better prepared.
And he says working with an idol, World Cup-winning five-eighth Stephen Larkham, has helped prepare him for the pressures and demands of the gruelling campaign.
“As a player and as a person I’ve grown immensely,” Cooper said.
“I don’t think it’s so much a football stance, but more about my personal life – how I conduct myself in a day-to-day manner.
“I’m very focused at this World Cup. Which is not to say I wasn’t focused in 2011, but there were a lot of distractions (and) a lot of things went on that year that maybe I took for granted.
“I won’t take any second for granted this time around.
“I’m over here to win with the team and to do the best that I can to contribute to my team and make sure we go away as winners.
“We’re not here to make up numbers or here to enjoy the experience.
“Yesterday, we were given a medal of participation – we don’t want to go away with just a medal of participation.
“We want to take the trophy home.”
Four years ago, Cooper entered the World Cup as a mercurial talent who held the hopes of Australia on his shoulders and seemingly had all of New Zealand against him – and he was immediately set upon by local media.
Cooper now admits he became “too relaxed”, a trigger brought about by the hostile environment which forced him to regress to his laidback self.
Boos followed his every step, save for his kick-off which went straight into touch to start the semi-final against the All Blacks, while front and back pages were dedicated to making him a target.
“So far on this trip, we haven’t seen that sort of pressure put on him,” Wallabies assistant coach Larkham said.
“Most players at the top level have their own expectations. He’s no different there.
“It was certainly difficult for him in New Zealand … he’s been trying to prove himself ever since then – that he’s worthy of wearing the No.10 jersey for Australia.
“I think he’s worked his way back into this team on form.”