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Quade Cooper and Will Genia: Join with Japan for the Future

Fri, 09/04/2021, 1:30 am
Jim Tucker
by Jim Tucker
Reds go into the Super Rugby AU blockbuster game as favourites against the reigning champions.

Quade Cooper has made the bold suggestion that a Champions’ League for the region’s top clubs is an ideal way to unite Australian, Kiwi and Japanese rugby.

Two seasons abroad with the Kintetsu Liners in Japan has convinced the 70-Test Wallaby that embracing the country in future competition ideas is essential.

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Cooper turned 33 this week and sounded fresh, upbeat and excited about rugby and life in general when tackling a wide range of topics during a Zoom hook-up.

His 110-Test ally, Will Genia, was on the call too. He had rich praise for James O’Connor leading the unbeaten Queensland Reds as a new man who had undergone a “complete transformation.”

Cooper and Genia are on the verge of steering their second division club into pool play with Japan’s leading clubs for Top League’s new format for April-May.

Halfback Genia too sees the potential for Australia to prosper with closer links with Japanese rugby.

“There’s an abundance of talent of high quality in Japanese rugby. Japan has to be incorporated in Super Rugby going forward,” Genia said.

“Top company sides like Kobe Steelers and Suntory, with their international rosters of players, would be competing with Super Rugby AU sides, no doubt.

“How good were Japan at the 2019 World Cup? There’s such huge scope to grow the game here and the people are so passionate about it.”

Cooper went further by completely flipping the common idea that a Japanese company team could be invited into a Super Rugby Pacific-style competition.

Beauden Barrett is one of the big name players now plying his trade in Japan | Getty Images
Beauden Barrett is one of the big name players now plying his trade in Japan | Getty Images

“A lot of the time we think ‘let’s put in a team from Japan’. In my mind, it’s time to try it the other way around and invite a Super Rugby team to join Japan’s Top League,” Cooper said.

“The fanbase is amazing and the strength of the companies with the dollars behind them has to be taken into consideration.”

Even if Super Rugby AU and Super Rugby Aotearoa blend into a trans-Tasman competition next year, Cooper and Genia believe room could be found for a Champions’ League modelled on the European Rugby Champions Cup.

“You could have two or three of the best teams from each country playing off,” Cooper said.

Last year’s cancelled Japanese season meant Cooper had eight months off. He reconnected with friends and family while also diving into his longest-ever period of body preparation.

“What I had been putting out on the field was less than I could max out at. You only make surface-level gains in a regular pre-season so I got to train at a level above to make some real improvements,” Cooper said.

Cooper is still five years younger than Wallaby great Matt Giteau who has decided on one last fling at 38 in the USA with the new Los Angeles Giltinis.

“It seems like an age away but it creeps up quickly. Understanding what the body is capable of, and how it is feeling right now, playing at 38 would be a breeze,” Cooper said.

“But, I don’t want to be playing at 38 just to be playing the game. I want to be deserving my spot

“Getting Kintetsu back into the Top League has been the goal of ours since we arrived. We’ll be underdogs but I can’t wait for this next stage.”

Both Cooper and Genia have been keeping an eye on the Queensland Reds rolling on with a 6-0 record this season.

The Reds are shaping up as competition front-runners 10-years on from their last Super Rugby title

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“The style of footy they are playing is really enjoyable to watch. Willy and I are seeing some players, we grew up with, come into their own as men and great footballers. They are making the Reds a rugby powerhouse again,” Cooper said.

“They are playing very similar (on attack) to how we played in 2011 but it’s hard to put comparisons on the teams at the moment. They are only playing the Brumbies, Force, Rebels and Waratahs whereas 10 years ago we were playing New Zealand, South African and Australian teams week in, week out.”

Coach Brad Thorn is taking the 2021 Reds to many of the same milestones that 2011 coach Ewen McKenzie used as regular motivation to drive his team.

First win in Canberra, regaining the Templeton Cup from the Waratahs, a big run of wins at Suncorp Stadium, best start to Super Rugby...they all build a team’s self-belief.

Thorn has also stirred internal competition for spots. For example, Angus Blyth is out of the 23 altogether to face the Brumbies at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night because Ryan Smith, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto and reserve Seru Uru have been preferred.

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Likewise, Wallaby winger Filipo Daugunu is on the bench with wing spots so hotly contested.

“Ewen created an incredibly competitive environment. He always came up with those little goals - ‘the Reds haven’t done this since ….’ - to motivate us and it helped catapult us to believing we could do it,” Genia said.

“One key was never getting ahead of ourselves. We never spoke ‘we’re going to win it.’ It was all about our focus on the day-to-day grind and preparation for just the next week’s opponent.”

Genia saved a special mention for James O’Connor.

“As a mate, it’s just be great to see his transformation,” Genia said.

“You think about where he’s come from, the cocaine, the prescription drug issues and losing the enjoyment for footy.

“It’s a complete transformation. To now be Queensland Reds captain is a reflection of the changes he’s made as a person and how much he’s matured.

“More than the rugby I’m just so happy to see him come through the other side as a better person.”

It’s going to be a top of the table clash when the Reds take on the Brumbies at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night, kicking off at 7.45pm AEDT, catch all the action LIVE on Stan Sports and simulcast on 9Gem, click here to purchase tickets.

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