Former Wallabies star Quade Cooper could lose a $1 million payday from his current club in Japan if he decides to switch codes and pursue his ambitions to play in the NRL.
The 32-year-old is contracted to recently-crowned Top Challenge League champions, the Kintetsu Liners, which he joined from the Melbourne Rebels alongside long-time halves partner Will Genia late last year.
However, with eight months between now and the new Japanese domestic season kicking off, Cooper last week outlined his “lifelong dream” of playing in rugby league’s premier club competition in an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald.
The NRL is eyeing a return to action on May 28 after its 2020 campaign was suspended after just two rounds due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
A shortened season of 13 weeks is being considered, which would hand Cooper a few months to ply his trade in the 13-man code for the first time in his professional career.
“I had a great time in Japan and Kintetsu has been nothing short of amazing,” the 70-test Wallaby told The Herald last Monday.
“The experience, the club, the people … and I’m very much looking forward to going back there.
“But with their blessing, if they said that they don’t mind me going to the NRL for that short three-or four-month season to do something I’ve always wanted to achieve, then mate, I’d jump at the opportunity to fulfil a dream that I’ve had since I was a kid.
“The way things are kind of working out, it could be one where all the stars align.”
Interest in Cooper’s services within rugby league circles is reportedly high, with reports in Australia indicating that the Wests Tigers are one of the clubs interested in recruiting the former Queensland Reds, Melbourne Rebels and Toulon playmaker.
Gold Coast Titans head of football Mel Maninga has also gone on record to express his eagerness in bringing Cooper to Cbus Super Stadium.
“We’d discuss it, for sure, and see what we think,” Meninga told The Herald.
“There’s no doubt he has the skill there. Any of the union guys, especially the backs, who are brought up on league can make the transition. There is a gamble there because ideally you’d want him to have a pre-season because you can’t play him in reserve grade.
“You’d have to throw him straight in. You don’t want someone like that to come to a club and fail. We’ll probably have to wait and see what sort of money we have to spend in the salary cap as well, but we’ll talk about it.”
Such a move would have to come with the blessing of Cooper’s employers Kintetsu, though, and it appears the club is unwilling to allow the temporary cross-code switch come to fruition.
“We’re playing our lead-up games in that period of time. Where is the upside for the club to go and let him play NRL? There is absolutely none,” Liners head coach Nick Stiles told The Herald.
“Kintetsu are newly promoted so, from a club’s perspective, we want to do the best we can by being up there.
“To do the best we can and to be up there, we want all the players on deck.”
The Herald reports that Cooper’s contract with Kintetsu, worth as much as $1 million, would have to be terminated if he was to return to Australia to try his luck in the NRL.
Stiles also believes that his star first-five would be rewarded with another contract if he decided to stick with Japanese rugby.
“The only safe haven in rugby at the moment is Japan. We’re on full freight at the moment,” he said.
“We’re not getting pay cuts, we’re not getting stood down.
“[Cooper] would jeopardise those conditions by going and playing rugby league for three months.”
Former All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has labelled a former All Blacks star as "the best rugby player the world has ever seen".https://t.co/8NvvzhqpKk
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) April 19, 2020
Financial incentive doesn’t seem to be a driving motive of Cooper’s, however, who told The Herald last week that he was willing to make the jump to the NRL despite the competition’s clubs facing economic uncertainty in the face of the coronavirus outbreak.
“Here’s the thing, money is not the be all and end all,” he said.
“It is a massive thing for athletes, but there’s more than just that. When you’re talking three or four months in the NRL, there’s a hit you’re going to cop but it’s not the end of the world. It’s not a two or three year deal. I have been fortunate enough to play for a while and earn money.
“I’m lucky that in Japan there has been no issues around my pay or having to take a pay cut. At the end of the day, if the opportunity arose you’d have to look at it and weigh everything up.”
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