Cooper dazzles on his return for Reds
Reds 34 Lions 20
On the rampage ... James Slipper. Photo: AFP
QUADE COOPER made a triumphant return at Suncorp Stadium last night by helping the Queensland Reds to an impressive victory against the Lions.
The Reds opened up a 13-6 half-time lead and went on with the job in the second stanza to record a 14-point victory, keeping them within striking distance of the Australian conference-leading Brumbies, who they face next Saturday at Canberra Stadium in what is likely to be a season-defining encounter for both sides.
Incisive ... Digby Ioane of the Reds. Photo: Getty Images
‘‘We are definitely confident in our ability and the way that we have been tracking, and the Brumbies have been going well all season so it’s going to be a red-hot game,’’ Cooper said. His reconstructed right knee gave him no problems and he was quickly able to show the razzle-dazzle which the Reds fed off for last year’s title.
The Lions defied their last-place status to start the better of the two sides – controlling possession for the first quarter-hour and jumping out to a 6-0 lead through two Elton Jantjies penalty goals.
But five-eighth Cooper sparked the Queensland engine with a jinking run which laid the platform for the only try of the half to boom breakaway Liam Gill.
Back in action ... Quade Cooper. Photo: Getty Images
Goal-kicking centre Mike Harris then slotted two penalties for a seven-point half-time advantage.
Queensland could have been further in front at the break but Harris botched a try when he spilt a Cooper pass only five metres from the line, and then James Horwill was held up on the stroke of half-time.
While Cooper created most excitement and halves partner Will Genia was again a standout, gun 18-year-old three-quarter Chris F’Sautia enjoyed a debut to remember off the bench. Playing on the wing, F’Sautia made a line break with his second touch, off-loaded to Genia and then backed up to score.
It was the second Reds’ try in five minutes as the 14-man Lions were punished for second-rower Franco van der Merwe’s yellow card for a cynical foul on the goal-line when they trailed 13-6. Queensland immediately took advantage with hooker Saia Faingaa diving over from a clinical driving maul off Rob Simmons’s lineout win. Genia scored the Reds’ fourth try in the 55th minute when he sprinted 60 metres from a turnover which Jake Schatz quickly pounced on but, from there, the Lions showed heart with two late tries.
The Reds finished the match with an injury cloud hovering over utility back Ben Lucas, who was replaced with a groin injury only three minutes after he took over at five-eighth from Cooper.
Reds coach Ewen McKenzie said the rash of second-half changes – with Gill, Faingaa and skipper Horwill all replaced – contributed to a limp finish after they acquired the attacking bonus point. ‘‘We’re not going to pretend we’re happy with the last 20 minutes,’’ McKenzie said. ‘‘It was a frustrating experience. I’ll guarantee that we’ll be on song next week.’’
Despite a 10th successive loss, Lions coach John Mitchell admired the intensity his side brought to the match.
QUEENSLAND REDS 34 (Saia Faingaa, Chris Feauai-Sautia, Will Genia, Liam Gill tries Michael Harris 4 cons 2 pens) bt LIONS 20 (Martin Bezuidenhout, Jaco Kriel tries Elton Jantjies 2 cons 2 pens) at Suncorp Stadium. Referee: Keith Brown. Crowd: 31,118.