Walking away ... Quade Cooper has reportedly decided to quit Australian rugby. Photo: Getty Images
QUADE COOPER'S Australian rugby career appears to be over after the ARU effectively forced the star five-eighth out of the game by offering him an incentive-based contract usually reserved for rookies.
Cooper, who was hit with a record $40,000 fine for criticising the state of the game and the mood in the Wallabies camp, had a contract offer from the ARU pulled and received a revised deal from ARU chairman Michael Hawker on November 8 - a week after his code of conduct hearing.
If he was to accept the deal, Cooper would be regarded as below the top 30 players in Australia - an insult to the 24-year-old voted the country's Super Rugby player of the year in 2011 and runner-up as the most popular player among fans at this year's ARU awards.
While he had agreed to a three-year deal with the Queensland Reds, that was subject to Cooper finalising a new ARU contract.
However, he feels the decision to offer him an incentive deal is further punishment for his outspoken comments on Twitter and during an appearance on Fox Sports, and is now considering other options.
After indicating his interest in playing in the NRL on numerous occasions in recent years, a switch of codes is now a real possibility for Cooper if he can find a club with room under the salary cap to accommodate him.
Boxing is another possibility, and there is speculation he could fight on the undercard of close friend Sonny Bill Williams's proposed bout with Francois Botha in February.
Cooper added fuel to the fire on Monday night by tweeting a photo of himself with Mike Tyson, along with the caption: ''The scariest man on the planet and Iron Mike Tyson''.
Fairfax Media understands Cooper stayed in Sydney on Monday night after spending the weekend in Wollongong, where he played cricket for a side chosen by Wendell Sailor in a charity match featuring several St George Illawarra players.
The Dragons, whose chief executive Peter Doust indicated on Friday they were interested in Israel Folau, are one club with room under the salary cap, and had been on the lookout for a new playmaker following the retirement of former skipper Ben Hornby.
Reds officials on Monday night were maintaining they had been given no notice by Cooper that he intended to break the three-year deal he signed with the QRU in June.
They had been heartened by Cooper's statements - even after being fined $60,000 ($20,000 was suspended for two years) along with a three-match ban - that he was still committed to playing for the Reds in Super Rugby next year and believed that had not changed.
Cooper also told Fairfax Media on Sunday that he had been doing weights training for the past month to strengthen his injured knee but after details of the ARU's incentive-based offer leaked in a report on Monday it now seems unlikely the Reds will benefit from his recovery.
Fairfax Media understands Cooper's contract with the QRU was set to earn him about $400,000 next year. His ARU contract, with incentives and match payments, has the potential to take his total package to $600,000, but only if Cooper plays every Test - at $13,000 a match.
Cooper will also have factored the fine into his grievances, along with the fact that he has gone from the Wallabies' No.1 player heading into last year's World Cup to not even being worthy of a guaranteed ARU contract a year later.
Wallabies captain Nathan Sharpe said Cooper's reported departure would be a loss to Australian rugby.
''Quade's a very talented player, and it's like that with all player contracts, I suppose, people have to make their decisions, it's an individual thing,'' Sharpe said. ''I don't know too much about it but that's disappointing. Sometimes the chips don't fall the way everyone wants them to.''
with GLENN JACKSON and GEORGINA ROBINSON