Quade Cooper is set for a high-stakes homecoming when he steers the Wallabies in Saturday’s Test against the Springboks at Suncorp Stadium.
The mercurial five-eighth has signed a deal to return to the Queensland Reds in Super Rugby next year, but gets an early chance to stretch his legs at his cherished home venue in the third-round Rugby Championship fixture – an absolute must-win for two out-of-form sides.
Cooper made his comeback on the international stage after a one-year absence in front of a hostile Wellington crowd last month in Australia’s most recent defeat to New Zealand.
It was a reasonable enough start from the 28-year-old, who worked in tandem with new inside centre Bernard Foley for the first time.
But assistant coach Stephen Larkham expects Cooper to take his game to another level in Brisbane, where he hasn’t played since the Reds faced the Chiefs last June.
“It’s almost home, isn’t it, for him here,” Larkham said.
“He’s been away for a little bit but very comfortable here and I think all the guys are comfortable here.
“Quade had a great game, I think, for his first game in a long time. He was really energetic at training, really enthusiastic with the boys and we’ve seen that again this week.
“I think having that combination of Quade and Bernard together will give Quade a lot of confidence.”
Larkham concedes the Wallabies have struggled to adapt to the new attacking structure introduced after the 3-0 series defeat to England in June, but believes they found “clarity” in what he says was their best training week of the year.
That could mean more ball for Israel Folau, who remains at fullback after coach Michael Cheika emphatically ruled out a move to the centres for his strike weapon.
“Everyone’s in agreeance that he is the best fullback in the world,” Larkham said.
“The challenge for us as a coaching group is to make sure we’re getting as many touches for Israel as possible.
“We don’t want to overburden him with touches but we certainly want to get him some touches in space.
“In attack we’re just trying to tinker with his running lines and where he is on the paddock. Defensively he’ll still do his job like he’s always been doing.”