Quade Cooper has not dropped off the Wallabies’ map entirely but attack coach Stephen Larkham says they won’t be picking him out of club rugby.
Cooper is playing for Souths in Queensland Premier Rugby after Reds coach Brad Thorn told him he wasn’t required at training in the preseason, despite being contracted until 2019.
Both the Rebels and Brumbies have spoken to Cooper about the possibility of him making a move, but the playmaker opted to stay in Brisbane, and has been vocal about his desire to return to the Reds.
Cooper’s chances of a Reds return were effectively publicly quashed by Thorn on Wednesday, when the coach said Queensland wouldn’t stand in Cooper’s way should another franchise come knocking.
Cooper’s absence at Super Rugby level makes Australia’s lack of flyhalf depth obvious, with patchy performances from Melbourne’s Jack Debreczeni and Queensland starter Jono Lance moving overseas next season.
Youngster Hamish Stewart has shown some promise, but none of the starting 10s appear to be pushing incumbent Bernard Foley too hard.
Though Larkham said there were sometimes exceptions, the Wallabies weren’t likely to be selecting Cooper unless he was playing at the top level.
“I wouldn’t say it’s out of the picture, but at the moment, no, we're looking at Super Rugby players,” he said.
“There's three guys who were in the squad last year (as possible flyhalves) - Bernard (Foley, Reece Hodge and Kurtley Beale were our three five-eighths and the other two (Hodge and Beale) were outside, playing different positions.
“You look at his (Cooper’s) contribution to the team on the field, there’s no doubt he’s good enough to play for Australia and make an impact at that level.”
Though a Super Rugby move appears Cooper’s only option, Larkham said no one at the national level would be pushing him in any direction.
“I guess it’s up to him,” he said.
“I would love to see him playing Super Rugby, there's no doubt about that.
“I've always enjoyed my time with Quade, I think he's a magnificent player and I certainly want to see him playing at that next level, which will hopefully then we'll be able to play for Australia again.”
Larkham also said Israel Folau’s retention was a priority for Australia as the World Cup nears, with the fullback recently linked with a possible move to the Queensland Reds.
“Anyone in the top 25 players in Australia at the moment is very important to us, with the World Cup a year away,” Larkham said.
“Our preparations have started and Israel's certainly a player that we would love to keep in the game.
“He's a spectacular player and i enjoy working with him and certainly enjoy watching him play.”
The Waratahs are keen to keep Folau in NSW, despite a string of recent controversies.
The Wallabies play their first June Test on June 9 in Brisbane, against Ireland. Buy tickets here