If Australian media reports are to be believed, Australia flyhalf Quade Cooper’s international rugby career was over yesterday, just four years and 38 matches after he emerged on the Test stage with a decisive try on debut.
The 24-year-old was variously described as being set for a new career in boxing or rugby league, or perhaps staying in union in the lucrative French or Japanese leagues, after turning down a new contract with the Australian Rugby Union (ARU). A spokesman for the ARU said the reports were speculation as the governing body had heard nothing from Cooper, currently sidelined by a knee injury, or his management team about the New Zealand-born player’s plans.
The ARU spokesman would not confirm the contents of the contract offer, but media reports suggested it was the sort of pay-as-you-play deal that would usually be offered to those outside the top echelons of the national set-up.
Negotiations over a deal resumed late last month after Cooper was fined A$40,000 (US$41,600) for describing the Wallabies camp as a “toxic environment” he felt was “destroying” him.
The fine completed a miserable 12 months for Cooper, which started when he limped out of the 2011 Rugby World Cup with a damaged knee and was labeled “public enemy No. 1” in New Zealand.
However, in the preceding three years, Cooper had established himself as the top flyhalf in Australia and one of the most exciting talents in rugby.
His incisive passing, quick feet and ability to glide across the front of opposition defenses before spotting a gap helped Australia move up to second in the world rankings behind the All Blacks.
Cooper scored the decisive try on his debut against Italy in Padua on the November 2008 tour and made his first Test start against England at Twickenham the next year.
In 2010, he was named Super Rugby player of the year as he helped the revival of the Queensland Reds with 171 points and cemented his place as first choice Wallabies flyhalf, starting 13 Tests, including a win over the All Blacks.
His star continued to rise last year when he helped Queensland to a first-ever Super Rugby title and Australia to a first Tri-Nations title in a decade.
Yet not all were convinced of his talent, particularly in New Zealand.
He was dubbed “Carlos lite” in reference to his boyhood hero Carlos Spencer and there was much schadenfreude when Cooper had a disappointing World Cup. He never quite got back into his stride on his return from injury this year and there was little in his game to suggest opposition defenses had not figured him out.
While he struggled to regain his form on the pitch, his relationship with Wallabies coach Robbie Deans and the ARU deteriorated, culminating in his outbursts on Twitter and in a television interview.
Despite that, he appeared to have few issues with Queensland or Reds head coach Ewen McKenzie and signed a new deal to remain at the side until the end of 2015.
However, that deal was always contingent upon his signing a top up contract with the ARU.
Cooper has also said he would like to play alongside Sonny Bill Williams, who recently left the All Blacks to return to the rugby league with the Sydney Roosters.