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'NZ Rugby approached me': How close Cooper came to stunning move across the ditch

By Finn Morton
(Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

The unforgiving rivalry between the Wallabies and All Blacks reached its boiling point in the early 2010s, as flyhalf Quade Cooper became the villain that New Zealanders loved to hate.

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Cooper was one of the most exciting rugby players in the world at that time; the star first-five was a human highlight reel during his time with the Queensland Reds and Wallabies.

But some Kiwis considered the Auckland-born talent to be a traitor, as he pursued excellence and success in Wallaby gold.

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During his first campaign as the Wallabies’ starting choice in the No. 10 jersey, Cooper had kicked-off his feud was legendary captain Richie McCaw in Hong Kong.

However, the rising star became enemy No. 1 after doing the unthinkable the following year.

Just a few months out from the start of the Rugby World Cup, Cooper appeared to knee McCaw in the head during a test match in Brisbane – which he admitted to years later.

This was unforgivable in the eyes of All Blacks supporters, and they made that clear to Cooper every time he played across the ditch.

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But his career could’ve been very different. Potentially, Cooper could’ve become a fan favourite in New Zealand.

Speaking on the latest episode of Bloke In A Bar, Cooper revealed how close he came to signing with New Zealand Rugby – and the surprising decision why he “didn’t want to leave Australia.”

“New Zealand Rugby approached me in 2009,” Cooper said. “There were a few NRL clubs but that like a decision period for me because I debuted for the Wallabies and stuff like this.

“Everything was falling together, NRL clubs and some New Zealand clubs… but with that, I just didn’t want to leave Australia.

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“Everything that I had done coming through was with all the guys that I was now playing with at the Reds, now playing with at the Wallabies, like they were my mates.

“I was always quite a shy person, so going into a new situation for me was like quite scary. It was quite daunting. I’d always avoid those sort of situations.

“Even social situations, going to a new school… even when I started at Churchie, I didn’t want to go to school because I didn’t want to have to try and find new friends or walk around at lunchtime on my own.

“I looked at going to rugby league at that young age, to rugby union in New Zealand. (But the) reason why I stayed was because I was comfortable where I was.

“Being uncomfortable is a way of growth but I ended up just staying here for those simple reasons.”

Had things gone a little bit differently for Cooper, the pivot could’ve been sidestepping his way to glory with the Blues or Chiefs.

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But of course, he went on to win a Super Rugby title with the Queensland Reds in 2011, and is back in the Wallabies fold ahead of this year’s World Cup.

And it’s worth noting as well, most New Zealanders would respect Cooper nowadays.

However, that was just one option for Cooper.

An opportunity to sign for rugby league club the Parramatta Eels almost proved too good to turn down, and he would’ve pen to paper had it not been for interference from the media.

“I had an epic year with the Reds, I love it. We were playing epic footy, I was starting for the Wallabies and everything, and the Eels came to me,” he added.

“I was down in Wallaby camp and they came and picked me up from my hotel to drive out to Parramatta to go have a look at the facility, and no one knew about it.

“What happened was I was like, ‘man no one can know about this, I don’t want anyone to find out because I’m in camp and we have a game.’

“The amount of money that was on offer, I’m like, ‘yeah I’m signing.’

“We get to the stadium to go look around the facilities and they show me where I’ll most likely live and everything like that.

“Then, as I’m about to get in the car, some journos come and I like s*** myself and I back out of it and I jump in the car.

“This was before that stuff was happening a lot… people in the community like that were celebrities rather than just athletes.

“This kind of made me feel I guess used in some ways, but also them trying to force my hand to make a decision which I’d already basically made the decision that I wanted to come.

“It was pretty much a done deal.”

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