Mixed return for Cooper as Reds beat Blues
Quade Cooper displayed many of his sublime skills but finished red-faced in his Super Rugby trial return as Queensland outlasted a spirited young Blues outfit on Saturday night.
The Reds scored seven close-range tries to five by the physical Blues to win an entertaining pre-season cobweb-duster 41-35 at a packed Toowoomba Sports Ground.
Part-time boxer Cooper mixed mostly good, with some bad and ugly in his 60 minutes on the field in his only hit-out before Queensland's Super Rugby campaign kicks off against the Brumbies in Canberra in a fortnight.
In his first rugby appearance in five months, the Wallabies playmaker set up a long-range break with his first touch of the ball - an inside pop pass to Digby Ioane - and also produced some signature jinking steps and flick passes.
But his last two acts on the field left a sour taste in Cooper's mouth as he was one of many barrelled by powerful winger Albert Nikoro and then stripped of the ball just minutes later.
Both mistakes led to Blues tries as John Kirwan's young team stormed back into the contest to trail 29-28 at the three-quarter break.
Cooper's goalkicking, given the duties for his sole pre-season trial ahead of sharpshooter Mike Harris, was more rusty - slotting just two from five.
Harris immediately showed he was the man for the job by landing one from touch as the Reds closed out the topsy-turvy match.
The signs were promising for the Aucklanders who are attempting to rebuild under new coach Kirwan following a forgettable 2012.
The Blues had a 14-0 lead by the first drinks break with prop Angus Ta'avao and lock Ronald Raaymakers both bustling their way over after set pieces near the line.
But Queensland's pack muscled up to run in three close-range tries to forwards Adam Wallace-Harrison, James Hanson and Radike Samo in the last 12 minutes of the half.
Wingers Rod Davies and Luke Morahan were among the Reds best performers while halfback Nick Frisby and young flanker Liam Gill impressed after the break to build up the 29-14 advantage.
Both Wallace-Harrison and Gill finished with two tries each, while their Reds scrum improved throughout the match and Wallace-Harrison stood tall in their lineout.
First-time captain Anthony Faingaa, involved in an early scuffle with Blues halfback Bryn Hall, was the only injury concern for Queensland as he was sent for X-rays on his hand.
Cooper admitted to his rust but was well pleased with his performance on a chilly night when the Blues produced more of the running rugby highlights.
"It's coming off a long pre-season and sometimes the eagerness to get out there and do things takes over from the perspective of getting through the routine," he said.
Both Frisby and starting No.9 Ben Lucas impressed Reds coach Ewen McKenzie in their tussle to replace sidelined vice-captain Will Genia at halfback.
"It was a good trial I thought," McKenzie said.
"We wanted to be tested ... and we got tested out there in defence and in their counter-attack and that was important.
"I was just pleased with the effort of all 28 players."
Reds 41 (Adam Wallace-Harrison 2, Liam Gill 2, James Hanson, Radike Samo, Rod Davies tries; Quade Cooper 2, Mike Harris conv) bt Blues 35 (Albert Nikoro 2, Angus Ta'avao, Ronald Raaymakers, Francis Saili tries; Marty McKenzie 5 conv)