Quade Cooper may be set for a three-week Super Rugby swansong as he prepares to make his return from injury for the Queensland Reds with his future still very much up in the air.
The mercurial Wallaby will play his first game since a second shoulder fracture two months ago when he pulls on the No.10 jersey in the Reds’ wooden spoon playoff with the Western Force in Perth on Saturday.
All indications are it may be one of the final times Cooper will play for his home state, having reportedly accepted a deal with rich French club Toulon next season.
Cooper was to face the media on Thursday before the team’s departure from Brisbane Airport but was a mysterious late withdrawal.
The Reds are hanging onto hope they are still in contention to retain the 27-year-old, with coach Richard Graham saying the drawn-out nature of the negotiations doesn’t necessarily bode badly for the Reds.
“You look at the history, they’ve gone for a long, long period of time and he’s ended up staying with the organisation,” he said.
Graham was unable to provide an update on the talks, which are now with the ARU.
Whatever his destination next year, Cooper will be determined to finish a woeful season for Queensland on a winning note.
His addition brings the Reds arguably to full strength for the first time this year, together with the inclusion of Lachie Turner for Chris Kuridrani (calf) and Beau Robinson, who has been named on an extended bench and stands to make his 2015 debut at nib Stadium.
“I think the point of difference with Quade is he sees the game ahead one or two phases,” Graham said.
“He’s able to construct the attack to manipulate the defence.
“The other thing is his set of skills; he passes the ball probably better than anyone in Super Rugby, and that adds width obviously the way you play the game.
“He looks really comfortable with the ball in hand and certainly fresh from not having played the last couple of months.”
Flanker Adam Thomson anticipates that Cooper will provide the Reds with the kind of leadership in attack they have sorely lacked this season – but warned it would be unfair to expect too much from him too soon.
“You can’t expect huge things from him, coming back from injury – he’s had a lot of time off – but I’m sure if he can get just a glimpse of what he’s capable of, it gives a boost to the guys around him,” Thomson said.
“There’s no denying the fact he’s a world-class player that offers some attacking qualities that no other player in the world has.
“Someone like Quade, he knows exactly what he wants and can communicate that to the team.”
Reds: James O’Connor, Chris Feauai-Sautia, Karmichael Hunt, Samu Kerevi, Lachie Turner, Quade Cooper, Will Genia, Jake Schatz, Liam Gill, Adam Thomson, James Horwill, Rob Simmons, Greg Holmes, James Hanson, James Slipper (c). Res: Andrew Ready, Pettowa Paraka, Sam Talakai, Ed O’Donoghue, Beau Robinson, Nick Frisby, Jake McIntyre, Ben Tapuai (one to be omitted).