Reds coach backs embattled Cooper

JIM MORTON
Last updated 15:06 29/10/2012
Quade Cooper
Reuters
FACING THE MUSIC: Quade Cooper faces a code of conduct hearing for his comments about the Wallabies team environment being "toxic".

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Controversial playmaker Quade Cooper is burning with hunger to win the Wallabies’ number 10 jersey back and help beat the British and Irish Lions next year, according to Queensland coach Ewen McKenzie.

Describing Cooper as the most passionate rugby player he’s encountered, McKenzie on Monday said his Reds five-eighth was ready to put his problems with Australian rugby behind him and return to top form for 2013.

‘‘While there’s been a lot of talk in recent time I’ve never ever thought that he wasn’t passionate about the Reds, about Australian rugby,’’ he said.

The 24-year-old, currently sidelined following knee surgery, will front an Australian Rugby Union code of conduct hearing in Sydney on Wednesday where his immediate future will be decided following his public criticisms of the code and Wallabies last month.

Cooper has since met with ARU integrity officer Phil Thompson as well as national coach Robbie Deans, while the QRU has also been in high-level discussions on the subject.

McKenzie took the Reds to last year’s Super Rugby title and enjoys a remarkable 78 per cent success rate with Cooper as his 10 since 2010, but bluntly said he had no concerns about losing the 38-test star.

Cooper re-signed with Queensland on a three-year deal in June, but he has yet to formalise that agreement by signing with the ARU.

Reports have suggested he will be fined for his attacks on the Wallabies’ ‘‘toxic environment’’ and dour style of play and the punishment could be borne out in a reduced ARU contract.

At the time, Cooper told AAP he hated losing and was the most competitive person he knew and his comments were the result of frustration, especially given they were not challenging the All Blacks with an attacking game plan.

With the crowd-pulling Lions touring next season, McKenzie said Cooper would be hellbent on regaining the playmaking duties from good friend Kurtley Beale, who has starred at five-eighth in Australia’s past three tests.

‘‘He’s one of the most competitive guys I’ve met,’’ the coach said of Cooper on the first day of Reds pre-season training on Monday.

‘‘I’m sure he’ll want to play 10 at the highest level he can in front of the biggest crowds he can possibly play. That’s him.

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‘‘He wants to showcase (his skills), but the thing people miss is that he likes the responsibility of making things happen and have a game plan and taking it on the field.

‘‘He likes that responsibility and we’ve relied upon him heavily in the last few years to deliver for us and he has.

‘‘He likes to be empowered to do that and he feels that’s his  job. I’ve seen no change in him in that sense.’’

- AAP

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