The Queensland Reds could yet welcome back injured star Quade Cooper for Friday night’s clash with the Sharks at Suncorp Stadium.
The Wallabies five-eighth, who is mulling over a big-money offer to move to France next year, has barely played this season due to two separate shoulder fractures but will take on the visiting South Africans if he can prove his fitness at training this week.
If he does, it will mean an unfortunate demotion to the bench for rookie playmaker Jake McIntyre, who enjoyed an excellent debut in Queensland’s big win over the Melbourne Rebels on Friday.
“(Cooper) hasn’t done any contact work at this point but those guys around last week would have seen him train. He’s been out there,” coach Richard Graham said.
“But clearly the Sharks have some big bodies.
“We’ll need to make sure we put him through every appropriate progression there is.
“We obviously don’t want to take a risk at the same time.”
Cooper is understood to be still torn over whether he should stick with Queensland next season, most likely on an ARU-approved flexible contract, or start a new chapter in his career with European club powerhouse Toulon.
His teammates are doing their best to convince him to ignore the latter option – particularly Karmichael Hunt, who said the opportunity to play with Cooper was one of the reasons he joined the Reds.
“We haven’t been able to do that for a number of reasons but as soon as he can get back – hopefully it’s sooner rather than later – I’ll be looking forward to building that combination with him,” said Hunt, who played at outside centre for the first time for Queensland in Friday’s 46-29 victory.
“We had a couple of months in pre-season when we spent some quality time out on the training paddock, getting to know each other’s game.
“Take nothing away from Jake and what he can do… his organisation skills, his options, that was all a plus for us on the night. We’ve lacked a bona fide 10.
“I’m pretty familiar with Quade. He’s unpredictable at times but you have to be on your toes and I like playing with players like that. Opportunities can come at any minute of the game.”
While Cooper may come into the side, Queensland have lost winger Lachie Turner (concussion) for the Sharks match, while Hunt, James Slipper, James Horwill and Liam Gill have all pulled up sore.
Hunt said it was the embarrassment of Queensland’s capitulation to the Crusaders a week earlier that drove the team to easily their best performance of the season against the Rebels.
But the code-hopper warned it meant little unless it was backed up.
“We felt we just needed to get out there and put some pride back in the jersey and our own performances,” Hunt said.
“Thankfully we did that – but it’s only one game.”