Date: May 03 2012
Ewen McKenzie has continued to keep a firm lid on the potential return of his star playmaker Quade Cooper as the Reds slowly but surely edge their way closer to a full-strength side.
Twins Anthony and Saia Faingaa will make their first tandem appearance of the year against the Crusaders in Christchurch on Sunday, while Digby Ioane returned from suspension last week and Adam Wallace-Harrison has reprised his key role from the bench.
The final piece of the puzzle is undoubtedly Cooper, who trained and ran at Ballymore this morning but has given no definite timeframe for when he will make his much-anticipated comeback from a serious knee injury.
McKenzie wasn't giving any hints, saying "when he's right, he'll be right" and that the Reds would wait until he is fully confident in his reconstructed knee before pulling the trigger on his return.
That means Cooper could be back as early as next Sunday's home game against the Chiefs or be kept on ice until later in the season. What is clear is that the Reds aren't considering rushing him back from rehab.
"He's running today. He's edging his way back. We can only put him out there when he's confident everything's right. Unless he goes out there and is 100 per cent, he's not much value," McKenzie said.
"We've got to get to that point and he's not far away. But it's not going to be tomorrow."
McKenzie said coaching and medical staff would continue to confer but the final decision would ultimately come down to Cooper, who had a fright two weeks ago when he tweaked his knee playing a game of social touch football.
"In the end, it's the player. It's the player's knee and he knows how it feels. It's a much slower process than people think. It goes up and down. It's not an exact science," McKenzie said.
"People say these injuries can be six to nine months, so you've got a three-month fudge. We're working on the six side of things but some might take nine. It really depends.
"The good thing for Quade is he's been ahead of the rehab timetable the whole way. In effect, he's way ahead of where he would be in a normal situation.
"Everyone is gauging it is when is he going to be on the field. Well, sooner rather than later."
When Cooper does return, McKenzie cautioned any soaring expectations for an immediate return to his fine form of 2011, where his brazen attacking plays paid off handsomely in the Reds run to the title.
"He's very fit. It's not like he's in a wheelchair and and suddenly he's going to get out and be the playmaker. He's doing a lot of stuff," McKenzie said.
"He's got to be fit to be able to play at the level Quade plays at, not half a level below that. We need him at 100 per cent mentally and 100 per cent physically."
Newly re-signed Ben Lucas will continue in the number 10 jumper across the Tasman on the weekend.
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