Back after almost a one-year absence from Test Rugby, New Zealand-born QUADE COOPER returns to a Qantas Wallabies squad for the first time since the first installment of The Rugby Championship in 2012.
His last Test in Wallaby Gold against Argentina marked his 38th cap, meaning a spot in every Test for the remainder of 2013 would see him join an elite group of players to earn 50 caps for Australia.
Several other Wallabies teammates are a chance to join the 50-Test group this year, with Kurtley Beale (39), Will Genia (44), James Horwill (38), James O’Connor (40) and Tatafu Polota-Nau (44) all within range.
While omitted from the Wallabies squad for the June inbound Test series against the British & Irish Lions, Cooper did front the tourists with the Queensland Reds, under the tutelage of his now Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie.
The entertaining, free-spirited 25-year-old, featured in all 17 of the Reds Super Rugby games in 2013 and racked up the numbers with 130 carries for 2285 metres gained (an average 17 metres per carry). He also led the Australian conference in offloads with 54.
Cooper has been integral to the Reds’ success in recent years, reaching the height of his provincial career in 2011, when he guided the side to its maiden Super Rugby title.
His form extended to the Test arena that year as he shared in the Qantas Wallabies’ first Tri Nations success in a decade. Later that year the dazzling flyhalf was at the helm for Australia’s Rugby World Cup campaign and had featured in every minute of the Wallabies’ encounters at that tournament until a knee injury struck him down in the 20th minute in the Bronze final against Wales.
The injury to Cooper’s medial ligament ended his 2011 international season early, forcing a lengthy rehabilitation, limiting his options for both Super Rugby and Wallabies duties the following year.
He managed just three Test outings in the inaugural Castrol EDGE Rugby Championship before again suffering a knee injury, which ended his playing participation for the remainder of the year.
Such has been the hype associated with the Cooper career; it is easy to forget that 2011 was just his second full season as Australia’s first choice flyhalf after a graduated rise, having first made the Qantas Wallabies short of his 21st birthday.
Cooper was Australia’s Super Rugby Player of the Year in 2010 during a competition where he broke the record for the most points in a Queensland season, contributing 171 to the cause, which included a state record 31 during the stunning 41-20 demolition of the Crusaders. That night saw the inside back combination of Will Genia and Cooper tear the Super Rugby heavyweight to shreds, providing a pointer of what was to come for both Queensland and the Wallabies.
Cooper graduated to a first choice Test place later in 2010, twice claiming man-of-the-match awards during the June Tests against England and Ireland, before growing his authority further during his maiden Tri Nations and that year’s Spring Tour.
A prime orchestrator, as director of the Queensland backline during the Reds’ run to a maiden Super Rugby title, Cooper showed his ability to control a game during the final Tri Nations, dominating tactically in the wins over South Africa at Durban and New Zealand in Brisbane which helped Australia claim the title.
The win over the All Blacks in Brisbane was especially satisfying given that Cooper had grown up in the Waikato region, in New Zealand, but had been snapped up by the ARU-funded National Talent Squad when his family moved to Brisbane while he was 15. Of Maori ancestry, Cooper attended Brisbane’s Church College, alongside fellow Wallaby David Pocock, who at that time played outside of him in the ‘Churchie’ backline.
After representing Australian Schools for a then record nine games, he made the Queensland Reds in his first year out of school in 2007, and then represented Australia at the inaugural Under-20 Junior World Championship in Wales in 2008. His maiden Qantas Wallabies selection followed for the Spring Tour of Europe later that year. Cooper featured in four of the six games on that trip, confirming the impression that things happen when he is involved, after he scored the decisive try 10 minutes into his Test debut at Padua during Australia’s 10-point win over Italy.
A year later, on the 2009 Spring Tour, Cooper was able to mark the player he had idolized as a child, ex-All Black and Blues flyhalf Carlos Spencer, when the Qantas Wallabies played a mid-week match against Spencer’s English club, Gloucester.
Cooper ended last year with 29 Test appearances at flyhalf, having leap-frogged former Wallabies skipper Mark Ella to rate as Australia’s fourth most-capped number 10, but still 13 astern of the 42 appearances from flyhalf made by the third positioned Matt Giteau.
FAST FACT: Quade Cooper grew up in the south Waikato timber town of Tokoroa. He once lived across the road from All Black centre Richard Kahui and is best mates with the ex-Crusaders and now Scotland winger Sean Maitland, having grown up with Maitland and having been coached by Maitland’s father in the junior grades.