Quade Cooper responds to speculation that he could face All Blacks
Rennie hinted last week that Cooper was applying pressure on the Australian selectors to be picked by the Wallabies for the first time in four years when they face the All Blacks in Perth on Sunday.
“He’s been fantastic in the group. Can’t speak highly enough of him,” Rennie said of the 70-test star said last Friday.
“Even when we had a few days off at the front of the week, he was driving a lot of the training and additional stuff a number of the boys were doing out on the field here or down at the gym.
“He’s been a big contributor to all meetings and discussions and prepared to share his mileage and he’s trained really well.
“His ability for pass selection or kicking options has been spot on and it’s been really good, from a training perspective, for us.
“He’s pretty much been running the New Zealand play, so he’s been great, and he’s applying pressure on us for selection.”
However, Cooper has downplayed the narrative that he could feature against his nation of birth at Optus Stadium in five days’ time.
“Nah, not yet, mate,” he said when asked whether Rennie has given him any indication that he will play this weekend.
“I think he keeps everybody on their toes. When we’re training, the teams are always quite mixed up.
“You look around and see where Hoops [Michael Hooper] or Marika [Koroibete] is and try and get some indication there, but other than that, the boys are just all fighting for spots.
“Rods [Izack Rodda] sort of alluded to the competition throughout the locks, the halves, and everywhere across the board.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) August 31, 2021
“There’s some fantastic players here who are putting in a lot of work and a lot of effort to become better players and put their hands up for selection.”
Earning selection for the Wallabies would be a monumental comeback of sorts for Cooper given his last test came against Italy in 2017.
The following year, he was axed from the Queensland Reds by head coach Brad Thorn and forced to play club rugby for Southern Districts in the Queensland Premier Rugby competition.
A move to the Melbourne Rebels the year after that wasn’t enough for Cooper to wriggle his way back into Michael Cheika’s World Cup squad.
With his test career seemingly in tatters, the 33-year-old left for Japan, where he has been playing for the Hanazono Kitetsu Liners since the end of 2019.
A change of coach in the wake of Cheika’s disastrous World Cup campaign has yielded a change in selection philosophy, though, and with Rennie now onboard, Cooper has returned to the Australian national squad, albeit on a short-term basis.
Acting as cover for injured playmaker James O’Connor, Cooper’s time with the Wallabies is expected to be limited, with the former set to return to the national camp once they relocate to Queensland next week.
Once O’Connor returns from his groin issues, it remains unclear how long Cooper will stay in Rennie’s squad before heading back to Japan to prepare for the revamped Japan Rugby League One competition.
It leaves Cooper with an uncertain window to complete his highly-anticipated Wallabies comeback, with this weekend potentially the last opportunity he will have to do so.
Despite the focus centring around when, or if, Cooper will represent Australia this year, the man in question said his attention is firmly on developing himself as a player and a leader, as well as helping develop those around him.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) August 31, 2021
“It hasn’t been a focus of mine at all,” he said when asked how much it would mean to him to play for the Wallabies again.
“It’s not something that I’ve come in here going, ‘Oh, I just have to play a test.’ For me, coming in here has been about learning and the things I’ve been able to learn.
“Whether I go back to Japan after this game, whether it’s after the Rugby Championship, I’m not 100 percent sure just yet.
“I have a wealth of knowledge in terms of footballing, in terms of things I’ve been able to gain and learn about myself and being back inside this environment.
“The level of skill, the level of training that we’ve been able to train at, I haven’t had that for four years or something, since I was last inside a Wallabies squad.
“As I said, it hasn’t been a focus of mine to come in and just play games. If I can grow as a man, grow as a rugby player, take that back to Japan and pass that knowledge onto other people, well then that’s a great reward for myself.
“That’s where my focus is at, and anything else outside of that, that’s just bonuses along the way in this journey.”
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