Quade Cooper made it through three days of Super Rugby pre-season in late 2017 before he appeared before Queensland management. That meeting marked the unofficial end of his 118-game tenure with the Reds.
Just one season into a lucrative three-year deal that was supposed to take him through the 2019 Rugby World Cup, Cooper had been cut out of new coach Brad Thorn’s plans.
Despite finding himself with an abundance of free time, Cooper revealed in an intimate interview with The Sydney Morning Herald that he never stop working.
“It happened on a Friday and then on Monday, I knew I should be training. What do I do? The first day, I went into a gym and was like ‘what do I do?’ I’ve been doing this for more than 12 years but normally your program is handed to you,” Cooper said.
“For me, it wasn’t just about the Reds. I was still training to be the best player I could be, whether that was for Super Rugby or [Brisbane club side] Souths. No matter what, I wasn’t going to be stopped from improving myself.
“If I got back into Team A or Team B, so be it. My focus was on me and how much I was able to learn.”
Newly-signed Melbourne Rebel Cooper also discussed how he felt leaving the Reds.
“Of course, it hurts. I played more than 100 games for them. But I’m not going to judge anyone. That’s up to them and how they feel about that. I’m very fortunate to play for Melbourne now, same with club rugby and the NRC,” Cooper said.
“I don’t wish anything bad on anyone. If anything, it says more about coaching styles, to be able to get the best out of every player.
“For me, I don’t have any ill judgment. That’s not me. I can only go with the situation I’m in. For me, that’s Souths, Brisbane City and now Melbourne.”
30-year-old Cooper cites All Black Sonny Bill Williams as a big motivator after his axing in Queensland.
“I went to the Corporate Box [gym] every day, went back into training. And a big help for me has been Sonny. Khoder [Nasser, Williams’ manager] and [trainer] Shannon King, as well. But Sonny, straight away, was ‘come spend a week with me’. I went and spent a week there and we started training. He was on holidays but still was there to do that.
Cooper has long been a polarising figure in rugby, with his all-or-nothing style of play painting him as both hero and villain dependent on results. It’s something Cooper has never fully understood.
“To be honest, I’ve never been sure,” Cooper says. “What I do know is I’ve had a hell of a ride so far and I feel like I’ve still got so much to give. This year, it’s been a blessing to be a small part of this year for a lot of people.
“A lot of people that didn’t know got to know me. I was able to be a small part of a lot of people’s lives. When you are playing as a professional, people feel you are out of reach. But even if I’m playing Test match football, I’m still down here having a coffee, doing normal things.
“Because I was playing at club level, I was able to interact in a closer way. But I’ve never really known why people are so fascinated by me.”
After a season of club rugby with Souths and a year in the NRC with Brisbane City, Rebels coach Dave Wessels reached out. Cooper reached a deal with the club and with halfback Will Genia will re-form the partnership that saw the 2011 Super Rugby title head to Queensland.
“I was very intrigued by his [Wessels] visions of the game, how he saw the game. And how he took the time to get to know me as a person. That meant a lot. I have a lot of respect for him and am looking forward to playing in Melbourne.
“Anybody who takes the time to get to know you, you know they are investing in you. I have the utmost respect for him.”
“I’ll just do the best I can. If I’m ever picked to play, I’m picked to play. If not, that’s up to the coach.
While Wessels was quick to reach out, the same can’t be said for national coach Michael Cheika.
“He hasn’t been in touch at all,” Cooper said. “Again, that’s all out of my control. I’ll just do the best I can. If I’m ever picked to play, I’m picked to play. If not, that’s up to the coach. I don’t lose too much sleep over that. The guys that he picks, he lives with that and the results they get.”
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