Crusaders ready for unpredictable Cooper

TARGET: Quade Cooper will be a target for his past deeds as well as his playing ability.
TARGET: Quade Cooper will be a target for his past deeds as well as his playing ability.

Don't believe the spin, Quade Cooper.

The Crusaders may refute the Reds first five-eighth will get the flame-thrower treatment during tomorrow night's Super Rugby qualifying final at AMI Stadium but the street-smart Cooper won't be that gullible.

Cooper, 25, knows there can be no camouflaging that he and several Crusaders have history in this competition and at international level.

Even if you discount his well-documented feud with Richie McCaw, a number of Cooper's opponents will not have forgotten his past eclectic methods with the ball and mouth.

Cooper hasn't played for the Reds in Christchurch since a fleeting appearance off the bench in 2007 but his reputation as a playmaker capable of opening defensive lines with fine footwork and brilliant offloading ensures he will be well tracked.

Then there are the off-field dramas to add to this story; All Blacks captain McCaw warning in his book that players like Cooper eventually "get their beans", Cooper's decision to label Robbie Deans' Wallabies camp as "toxic" and the ex-coach's decision to exclude him from the recent British and Irish Lions series.

Add to that his alignment with controversial manager Khoder Nasser who a few years back sparked speculation Cooper would swing to league. He didn't go to the 13-man code but Nasser had more success getting his client into the boxing ring.

But it is Cooper's unpredictable nature on the park, combined with his relationship with halfback Will Genia, that should have the Crusaders' defenders on edge.

And it seems Cooper is anticipating a hot reception too.

"I expect that every week. Nothing changes. We just played down in NSW and I take it I'm not the most favourable bloke down there either," Cooper told Brisbane media this week.

"It is what it is and that's part and parcel of rugby and rivalries in rugby. We've got a great rivalry with the Crusaders as a team. We played them in 2011 and managed to get the win. I'm sure that will add to the occasion."

While Deans tried to make Cooper conform to his orthodox methods, Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder anticipates Reds coaching boss Ewen McKenzie will encourage the Tokoroa-born No 10 to let it all hang out.

"He tries to get his guys over the advantage line but he's a very unpredictable player and that's what makes him so threatening," Blackadder said.

"He's a bit like (Chiefs first-five) Aaron Cruden ... You can't cover every single base but expect him to have a go."

As the Crusaders proved when they beat the Chiefs a fortnight ago, if you compromise Cruden by pressuring his pack and halfback the job-sheet is half completed.

Although Blackadder was unsure whether McKenzie would order Cooper to drift back to fullback in defence, he was wary of chasing him by putting up bombs.

"If you try contestable kicks it's got to be ball-and-all tackles. We are just going to try and implement our game and if you break through that first line he has to make those tackles anyway."

Reds captain James Horwill and Genia return from the injuries they picked-up with the Wallabies.

Crusaders captain Kieran Read acknowledged that blocking Genia's space will be imperative, especially in the final quarter as tight forwards near the ruck tire.

"We've talked about it. He's the best halfback in the world, I guess," Read said. "We have to be pretty connected and spot-on around the rucks."

QUEENSLAND REDS: Ben Lucas, Dom Shipperley, Ben Tapuai, Jono Lance, Chris Feauai-Sautia, Quade Cooper, Will Genia; Jake Schatz, Liam Gill, Ed Quirk, James Horwill (capt), Rob Simmons, James Slipper, Saia Faingaa, Greg Holmes. Reserves: Albert Anae, Jono Owen, Ed O'Donoghue, Radike Samo, Beau Robinson, Nick Frisby, Luke Morahan.

CRUSADERS: Israel Dagg, Tom Marshall, Ryan Crotty, Tom Taylor, Zac Guildford, Dan Carter, Andy Ellis, Kieran Read (c), Matt Todd, George Whitelock, Sam Whitelock, Luke Romano, Owen Franks, Corey Flynn, Wyatt Crockett:Reserves: Ben Funnell, Joe Moody, Luke Whitelock, Richie McCaw, Willi Heinz, Tyler Bleyendaal, Adam Whitelock.

The Press