Cooper was omitted from the Queensland Reds just three days into new head coach Brad Thorn’s tenure at the end of 2017, and spent the entire 2018 season playing club rugby in Brisbane.
Now apart of the Rebels set-up, the 31-year-old has played more minutes than anyone of his Melbourne teammates this year.
“I was feeling it — my body was pretty wrecked and mentally I was pretty fried,” Cooper told Fox Sports ahead of his reunion with the Reds in Melbourne this weekend.
“Coming off a club footy season into eight straight games — the physicality and the intensity each week was a big step up.
“That bye was great to have for all of us, but more for me — I feel very much refreshed.”
Friday’s Australian derby will be the second meeting between the two clubs in 2019, with the Rebels downing the Reds 32-13 in Brisbane back in round seven.
The fixture was a highly-touted affair, with many viewing it as an opportunity for Cooper to vanquish his demons against the coach that sacked him a year-and-a-half ago, but the 70-test Wallaby said he sees this week’s contest as an important clash for his side, rather than for himself personally.
Currently sitting atop of the Australian conference with 24 points, the Rebels only lead the Brumbies through points difference, while the Reds and Waratahs trail by just two and three points, respectively.
Despite a shocking opening 20 minutes which saw them ship 26 points against the Hurricanes in Wellington last week, the Rebels fought back to keep the hosts scoreless while scoring 19 points of their own during the remaining 60 minutes of the contest.
After returning to training on Tuesday, Cooper was hopeful his side would be able to avoid a repeat of last week’s start as they look to maintain their lead in the Australian conference.
“It was a difficult game and we’re very hard on ourselves so we’ve approached training this week as anyone probably would and have busted our backsides,” he said.
“I always am hard on myself and I’ll do what I can to put in a good performance for the team, as it’s a big game for us.”
The Short Ball:
Sign up to our mailing list here and we’ll keep you up to the minute with weekly updates from the world of rugby.