Australian sevens coach Andy Friend says the onus is on Quade Cooper to force his hand after presenting the Wallabies ace with his first chance to push for Olympic selection.
After a false start in Sydney last month, Cooper will make his eagerly-awaited debut for Australia’s Thunderbolts in this weekend’s round five of the World Series in Las Vegas.
Playmakers Lewis Holland and James Stannard have been rested after starring in Australia’s charge to the final in Sydney, where Cooper was overlooked for the 12-man squad despite flying halfway across the globe from France.
But Friend says there’ll be no holding Cooper back in Vegas, with the coach gambling on the mercurial gamebreaker to hit the jackpot in his first rehearsal for a Rio Games spot.
“I’m looking forward to seeing his ability to break open defences,” Friend told AAP.
“As an individual, he’s a hard man to contain and his pass gives us more width in attack.”
France-based Cooper linked with the squad on Monday and had his first with the team on Tuesday.
“He’ll definitely be better for that,” Friend said.
“He looked sharp, as he does. As a footballer, he’s world class.
“I know he’s going to make errors. We definitely know that.
“But he’s looking fit and physically and mentally ready to go.”
The challenge now is for Cooper to deliver, with Friend offering no guarantees as the 26-year-old presses for a place on Australia’s Olympic team.
“Quade’s got to prove himself to the squad,” the coach said.
“He’s fitted in really well off the field, he’s bought into the culture and now it’s about producing an on-field performance.”
The Thunderbolts enter the three-day event starting on Friday in fourth place behind equal series leaders Fiji, New Zealand and South Africa and Friend says it’s vital his side back up their runner-up showing in Sydney.
“The boys have now got that belief and confidence that they can match it with anyone,” he said.
As well as Cooper, NSW Waratahs forward Pat McCutcheon, along with Boyd Killingworth and Tom Lucas have also been included this weekend, with Henry Speight and Tom Cusack, plus Holland and Stannard omitted.
Australia: Henry Hutchison, Tom Kingston, Sam Myers, Boyd Killingworth, Tom Lucas, Con Foley, Cameron Clark, Greg Jeloudev, Ed Jenkins, Allan Fa’alava’au, Quade Cooper, Pat McCutcheon.