The Rio Olympics beckons for Quade Cooper after the Wallabies five-eighth’s long-running contract saga took yet another twist.
The day after the Queensland Reds exited talks with Cooper’s management citing “unrealistic expectations”, the Australian Rugby Union has pledged to find a way to keep him in Australian rugby.
The most likely way for that to happen involves rugby sevens.
Cooper, who is now almost certain to take up his two-year deal with French powerhouse Toulon after the World Cup, has long harboured dreams of representing Australia at the Olympics – and that possibility has been at the heart of talks between his manager Khoder Nasser and the ARU, which remain ongoing.
In a statement, ARU general manager Rob Clarke said Cooper now has to “consider a new landscape” after the Reds severed all ties with the player.
“We would love for Quade to continue to play his rugby in Australia and we make no secret of the fact that we are looking to bolster our Sevens squad for our Rio campaign,” ARU general manager Rob Clarke said.
“However what we have put in front of him is a long-term deal that looks well beyond 2016 and the Olympic Games.
“We respect the QRU’s position, but ultimately he is now a free agent and has to consider a new landscape.
“The decision sits with him as to which road he wants to take, but he will do so knowing that the head coach of the Wallabies and the ARU is fully supportive of Quade playing for Australia, from Australia.”
Nasser’s other big-name client, All Blacks superstar Sonny Bill Williams, is reportedly set to miss the next Super Rugby season to focus on making New Zealand’s sevens team for Rio.
Cooper could do the same while still fulfilling his commitments with Toulon.
That’s not to mention the likelihood that Cooper’s Wallabies career will extend beyond 2015, provided he can earn seven more caps before the end of the World Cup to qualify for the ARU’s new eligibility rules for overseas players.
Wallabies coach Michael Cheika said: “The ARU wants Quade to continue playing in Australia.”
“We have been discussing seriously with Quade and his management about a long-term deal to play his rugby in Australia, so obviously I am disappointed reading the papers this morning – I know we’ve tabled a really fair offer which Quade has been strongly considering.
“If he does eventually go to France and is playing well enough, who knows, he may well be selected via the 60-cap rule if he is available.”
Whatever the outcome, Cooper has certainly played his last game for the Reds after 10 seasons and 107 provincial appearances.
His loss is a bitter blow both on and off the field for Queensland, in tandem with the departures of James Horwill and Will Genia, who will both play in Europe next year.