Quade Cooper is on the verge of walking away from rugby union.
The Queensland and Australian five-eighth is at increasingly remote odds to play another game for the Reds or Wallabies as negotiations to finalise the remaining components of his latest deal continue to deteriorate.
Cooper indicated in June he would remain with the Reds for a further three seasons, but the Australian Rugby Union part of that contract is yet to be completed. With Cooper venting his frustrations at the ''toxic'' Wallabies environment via social media and his relationship with coach Robbie Deans at rock bottom, the 24-year-old is making all the sounds of man who is making a move.
Sources told Fairfax yesterday that given the climate, Cooper is little chance to remain involved in Australian rugby next season. The French competition and the NRL are among the potential destinations if he exits.
Cooper has spoken of a desire to play in the NRL on a few occasions, while close friend Sonny Bill Williams has made it clear he wants to lure Cooper back to the game he played as a schoolboy. Williams wants Cooper to join him at the Sydney Roosters next season, and judging by Cooper's sentiments during an outspoken weekend, in which he fired shots at Deans, the ''boring'' rugby of the Wallabies and the state of the ARU, he is more than open to the prospect.
Until they hear otherwise, the Reds expect Cooper to be back at Ballymore next year but concede there are rifts between their star player and the ARU that need to be mended before that happens.
But with Roosters chairman Nick Politis out of the country on business, it was left to club chief executive Steve Noyce to hose down the reports. ''We're aware of a lot of speculation but James Maloney is joining us as our marquee signing at five-eighth, and we've made a commitment to James,'' he said.
Maloney is expected to form a formidable halves combination with Mitchell Pearce, leaving little room for Cooper. He could play at fullback but the club also appears to be full there, with gun winger Roger Tuivasa-Sheck considered a successor to veteran Anthony Minichiello.
Reds chief executive Jim Carmichael, who has castigated Cooper for his outspoken views on Twitter at the weekend, said several issues needed to be resolved.
''The Reds have kept their house tidy. These are in-house issues that have to be dealt [with] between Quade and the Wallabies, not the Reds,'' he said. ''There's a lot of issues there. They [the ARU] need to reconcile their issues with Quade, and Quade has to reconcile his issues with them.''
The beginning of the frayed relationship between Cooper, Deans and the ARU can be traced back to the World Cup last year.
Cooper's supporters feel he was made a scapegoat for the lacklustre Wallabies performance. They also believe there was little public backing from coaches and management in the face of an onslaught from Kiwi fans over his run-ins with Richie McCaw.
Deans's criticism of Cooper following the win over Argentina looks to have been the final straw, with Cooper taking little time to air his thoughts on the state of the game as he awaited further surgery on his reconstructed knee.
''There's a lot of people who are afraid to say what they feel so they just go along with it, and nothing is going to change,'' he said on Sunday.
''That's why I feel so strongly as a player. I don't want to be involved in the toxic environment, and that's how it is at the moment. It's an environment where things aren't going according to plan, and everyone is looking to point the finger.''
Cooper has made it clear his issue lies with the ARU, not the Reds. He plays his best rugby for their coach, Ewen McKenzie, who is in line for the Wallabies job after Deans.
Much could depend on the next two Tests, against South Africa in Pretoria and Argentina in Rosario. A poor showing could prompt a push against Deans and the promotion of McKenzie, which appears to be the only scenario that will keep Cooper in the Australian game.
Former Wallabies coaches have also had their say, with Eddie Jones urging Cooper to go to league. ''It's clear to me that Quade has lost all confidence playing in the current set-up, and I think it's time for him to go and start something new,'' he said.
And John Connolly said the Cooper-Deans situation had reached the point of no return. ''It's not acceptable to have players going public bagging the coach,'' he said.