James Slipper’s chances of returning to the Reds in 2019 seem low but the prop doesn’t want to be in the shoes of exiled Queensland teammates Quade Cooper and Karmichael Hunt come next season.
Slipper will return from a two-month drug suspension when he runs out with the Australian Super Rugby Selection this Friday night against the Wallabies but his future beyond that is murky.
The 29-year-old signed a two-year extension with the Reds earlier this year but that was before the emergence of his two positive drug tests.
Reds coach Brad Thorn has taken a hardline stance on the issue, with his own family battles with cocaine and so far he has been unmoved when it comes to his view on players that he believes aren’t a good cultural fit.
Slipper said the pair had spoken just once since he was suspended, an exchange that left his Reds future ‘murky’.
“I spoke to Brad the week after it all went down and it was clear from that conversation that the future could be murky,” he said.
Cooper and Hunt have both been playing club rugby this season with Thorn making it clear they will not be picked for Queensland in Super Rugby.
The pair are still contracted with the Reds for next year and have been earning their full salaries playing first grade.
That’s not a situation Slipper wants to replicate next year and it is believed that he is looking at other Super Rugby possibilities.
“I’d prefer not to be,” he said when asked about that possibility.
The loosehead has seen the positive impact a club change can have on a player as well, with long-time teammate Rob Simmons finding a new Super Rugby home at the Waratahs in 2018 after being cut in Queensland.
Whatever his standing at the Reds, it is clear that Wallabies coach Michael Cheika still rates Slipper, keen for him to be involved in Friday night’s trial.
Slipper has been in touch with Cheika during his ban and actually travelled to Sydney to meet with him.
“We were in contact, then I flew down here and we had a coffee and really discussed things and how I was going and that sort of thing,” he said.
Though the Reds seem like an unlikely option, a move away from Queensland would be complicated by the fact Slipper’s mother is suffering from illness, something that has contributed to his mental health struggles in recent months.
“That's a tough question right now because there's a fair bit moving,” he said.
“Whether I stay or not, it will be tough.
“It'd be tough to go back, it'd be tough to stay and it'd be tough to go.
“Any option would be pretty hard but right now I haven't really focused on that."
Slipper has leaned heavily on his family for support since his suspension and discussed his return with his parents before agreeing to play.
“I didn't even know I was going to play this until two days ago," he said.
“I sat down with the family we spoke about it and we thought it was the best thing for me to come down here to an organisation who really looked after me.”
The next step for 86-Test front rower is the potential of playing NRC for Queensland Country, something that his potential suitors will be watching closely.