Quade Cooper: The Return

Super Rugby
by Sam Phillips

It's been 622 days since Quade Cooper last pulled on a Queensland Reds jersey.

If you ask him, that's 622 days too long.

After a neccessary, year-long sea change soaking up the sun in the south of France, Cooper feels he is back where he belongs.

"The thing for me was, when I left, I didn’t enjoy it here at all - I don’t think many people did - players, staff, everybody," he told RUGBY.com.au.

"It wasn’t the greatest of places to be at the time but for me, home is home."Quade Cooper in action against the Melbourne Rebels in a pre-season trial. Photo: RUGBY.com.au/Stuart WalmsleyRugby players often speak to the love they have for their respective clubs but when Cooper speaks about his love of the Reds, it's obvious he has never been able to shake the thought of the bitter taste his departure left in the mouths of Queensland fans.

Once he arrived at Toulon it became a matter of when, not if, he would negotiate a return to Ballymore.

"I love this team and I’ve got a lot of passion for it and I always will," he said.

"No matter where I’m playing in the world, where I’m living and what stage of my career I’m in - this place will always have a really strong place in my heart."

Having started training with the Reds in the summer of 2005 as a raw 17-year-old, Cooper has spent nearly half his life at the Reds.Cooper's first tenure at Ballymore ended on a sour note. Photo: Getty ImagesNow, as a member of the leadership group and as the team's chief playmaker, he feels it is his responsibility to leave his team in a better place than where they were when he first started.

"I looked at my own situation and what I wanted to achieve over the next few years.

"I’m 28 so moving forward in my career, I feel like my best years (are) ahead and I wanted to do my part in seeing this club get back to where it belongs.

"It was a no brainer to be able to come home and be a part of this."

Cooper's love for rugby wavered towards the end of his first Reds tenure but there is no hint of the apathy he once had when he speaks of his desire to drag the franchise back to the top.

"This squad, there are a lot of young guys that are still so raw but their enthusiasm to learn and their enthusiasm to go out there and put everything on the line for their teammates in the preseason has been second to none," he said.There are signs that a formadible combination is building between Cooper and Karmichael Hunt. Photo: RUGBY.com.au/Stuart WalmsleyThere’s an energy at Ballymore that feels familiar to Cooper, evoking memories of their champion 2011 team, a side that came from the doldrums to scale the Super Rugby mountain.

"To now see the commitment that the young players, the older players, the coaching staff, they all have been successful, it’s infectious," he said.

"You wake up each morning, come into training and you want to put everything you’ve got into the team.

"I’m excited about that and I know that it’s similar to the feeling we had in 2010, 2011.

"Everyone had written us off and we had hit rock bottom, when you can’t get any lower all you can do is start climbing and all these boys understand that.It's been a long time coming but Quade Cooper is all smiles again. Photo: Getty Images"They’re looking for anyway to help us climb back to the top."

It's taken 622 days but Cooper is at peace and that can only mean good things for his beloved team.

"I play my best when I’m happy.

"When I’m going out there full of confidence in myself and full of confidence in our team - that’s what matters to me."