Cooper to leave Reds high and dry?
Cooper to leave Reds high and dry?SHARE
If Quade Cooper does in fact decide to walk out on Australian rugby the biggest losers will be the Reds who have already signed the controversial playmaker.
Cooper's negotiations with the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) have broken down after he was offered an incentive-based contract, an agreement usually reserved for players ranked outside the top 30 in Australia.
The contract offer was reportedly made a week after Cooper was fined $40,000 for his public criticism of Wallabies coach Robbie Deans and the ARU.
Cooper rejected a more lucrative contract from the ARU in July and had been awaiting its revised offer. He has signed a three-year contract with the Queensland Rugby Union worth a reported $400,000 per year to play Super Rugby, but that deal is contingent on his acceptance of the Australian union's offer.
Media reports said that with an incentive-based contract Cooper's overall earnings could reach $600,000 per year, though he would have to play in all of Australia's matches at around $13,000 per test.
Neither Cooper nor his manager Khoder Nasser – who also works with Sonny Bill Williams – commented on Tuesday on the contract reports or Cooper's immediate future.
An ARU spokesman also refused to comment on the reports other than to say "the ARU has had no contact with Quade Cooper or his management."
Media reports on Tuesday speculated Cooper was about to quit Australian rugby, either to take up rugby contracts in Japan or Europe or to follow Williams into rugby league.
Reds director of coaching Ewen McKenzie said he hadn't been in contact with Cooper for more than a week while the players were on leave.
"Secondly, he's in negotiations with the ARU and we're not involved in those negotiations," McKenzie told reporters in Brisbane.
"The frustration has been that (Queensland) came to terms with Quade some time ago, and he declared his intentions to rugby and to us for three years. He's given us his word on that topic. As far as I was concerned, I've never felt that he was going to do anything other than play for the Reds."
Cooper was hit with the largest fine ever imposed on an Australian rugby player for his comments in a television interview and on social media about what he called the "toxic environment" within the Wallabies team.
His comments reflected his strained relationship with Deans, who has been reluctant to regularly pick the Queensland playmaker this season because of injuries and poor form.
Cooper sustained a serious knee injury at last year's World Cup in New Zealand and faced a long and difficult recovery to regain fitness and confidence.
He was able to return to the Reds lineup during last season's Super 15 but he was a shadow of the player he had been a year earlier when he was Australia's Super Rugby player of the year.
Deans needed a fit Cooper in the absence of the injured James O'Connor and other flyhalf prospects but Cooper's fitness continued to lag and his form was inconsistent before he was again sidelined with an injured knee.
He was forced to yield the No.10 jersey to Berrick Barnes and Kurtley Beale, leading to his attack on Deans' management style. His comments appeared to alienate his Wallabies teammates, though Australia captain Nathan Sharpe told reporters on Monday that Cooper's latest issues would not impact on the Wallaby team.
"Every player goes through their own contract negotiations in different ways and obviously Quade's is pretty public," Sharpe told Australian Associated Press.
"In terms of the impact on the team, we've had a really good internal focus on how we deal with that. I think we saw with the (toxic environment) comments that were while we were in South Africa, we bounced back from that and focused really well."
Queensland Rugby chief executive Jim Carmichael said his union had also had no recent contact with Cooper and had no knowledge of his intentions. He hoped the flyhalf would still honor his contract with the Queensland Reds.
"I still genuinely believe he's an important asset to the game moving forward but it's up to Quade and the ARU where they're happy to move on," Carmichael said. "It's frustrating, that's for sure."