Quade Cooper will make his long-awaited return to rugby with the Reds this weekend. Photo: Getty Images
Queensland Reds flyhalf Quade Cooper has two auditions, including a shock Super Rugby start on Saturday night, to regain his Wallabies No.10 jersey in next month's internationals.
Two days after Reds coach Ewen McKenzie said it would be a miracle for Cooper to return from knee surgery this weekend, the 35-Test playmaker has been named to make his long-awaited return against the last-placed Johannesburg Lions at Suncorp Stadium.
Rather than being eased off the bench Cooper will start, just four days after his first full contact training session.
But Cooper is confident he will be able to produce the jinking runs and playmaking nous which helped reap last year's Super Rugby and Tri-Nations titles.
''Confidence isn't something that I lack,'' he quipped yesterday. ''Going out there and playing footy is what I love to do. If those opportunities [to step around players] arise, I know I've done the hard work.
''It's been a tough time, and a very long time at that, and I'm just so excited to be back as a part of the [Reds] team.''
If he comes through the match against the Lions and Saturday week's pivotal encounter with the ACT Brumbies in Canberra with no mishaps, Cooper will be in the frame to play at least one of two back-to-back Tests in early June.
Australia meet Scotland in Newcastle on June 5 before taking on Wales in Brisbane in the first of a three-Test series against the Six Nations champions.
With James O'Connor also out through injury, Test fullback Kurtley Beale had become the front-runner to play flyhalf following two stand-out displays at No.10 for the Melbourne Rebels.
Cooper, who hasn't played since rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament seven months ago at the end of his disappointing World Cup campaign, admitted thoughts of his own return to the Wallabies were ''a long way away''.
''That's not my focus at all,'' he said. ''My focus is solely getting out there this weekend and playing good footy.
''If those things arise, we'll think about them when they come. I know on the weekend the Lions will be coming for me and they will be coming for the team.''
Cooper's return means stand-in Reds' flyhalf Ben Lucas reverts to fullback, knocking Luke Morahan onto the bench, but centre Mike Harris will keep the goalkicking duties.
The Reds made two other changes to the side which upset the Waikato Chiefs 42-27 with front-rowers Greg Holmes and Saia Faingaa replacing Ben Daley and James Hanson, while back Chris F'Sautia is set to debut off the bench. AAP