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Cooper's reflections of a dummy past

Get ready: Queensland Reds' Quade Cooper prepares to pass the ball against the Brumbies earlier this month.

Get ready: Queensland Reds' Quade Cooper prepares to pass the ball against the Brumbies earlier this month. Photo: Getty Images

HE WENT from Australian rugby's hottest commodity to the sport's most hated figure in the space of 14 months. It is fair to say Quade Cooper knows a thing or two about the ups and downs of professional sport.

But success never comes with a promise to stick around and Cooper, a boxing match and a rugby game into his latest, hopeful comeback, has learnt that the hard way.

''The margins of success to failure are so small,'' he says. ''At the start of [2011] everything was just falling into place, whether [the Reds] were playing the best football one week to not very well the next week, we were still winning games because we were working so hard. From the success of the 2011 Super rugby season to the - I wouldn't say failure, but - to the 2011 World Cup, us not performing to our best and myself as well. That margin is so small, you can't let up for a second.''

The car park of a suburban shopping centre in Brisbane's southern suburbs is an unlikely place for reflection.

But here is Cooper, sitting in his car on a Thursday night, wondering into his phone why he said the things he did on live television towards the end of last year and whether he would have said them at all if he had not pushed his playing return so hard.

''I think to a degree they all coincided with each other,'' he says. ''When you're injured it's a very tough time emotionally, there are so many ups and downs with rehab and there's a lot of hard work and frustration that goes into it. A lot of things can add up and I guess it's just like anything in life, whatever your day job is, you can have a bad day in the office, a day when little things agitate you.''

Cooper had a bad few months. After the disaster of the World Cup campaign and the long road back from a serious knee injury, the Reds playmaker returned to the pitch last May to help salvage Queensland's season and get the team through to the finals.

In August he made it into the Wallabies squad for the Rugby Championship but lacklustre performances in three Tests culminated in another injury to his knee and more surgery in September. A little more than a week later came the now-infamous television interview, in which Cooper claimed the Wallabies were ''destroying'' him ''as a person and as a player''. The reaction was swift and overwhelmingly negative.

''I understand it, of course,'' he says. ''There's a lot of people, myself included, when I look back over some of the things I said in that interview, there's a lot of emotion and things that come across wrong and that I didn't necessarily mean but that came out in a way that was [wrong].''

A $60,000 fine, $20,000 of which was suspended on the condition he toes the line going forward, and an awkward public apology followed but Cooper ruled himself out of the Wallabies tour of Europe in November while his future in rugby hung in the balance.

Three months on, with a lucrative new two-year deal but no guarantees of Wallabies selection, Cooper knows he may never be able to heal the rift with those supporters who found the on-air tantrum was a bridge too far.

''I apologise to everybody that thought I was disregarding the Wallabies jumper, that I didn't want to play for the Wallabies,'' he says. ''I know a lot of people will never fully understand my reaction or fully forgive me for what I did but I've got to get on with life and continue to come back and play as good a [game of] football as I can and hopefully everything will look after itself if I do the right thing.''

Cooper continues mulling what he's learnt since being simultaneously booed and cheered by the Eden Park crowd as he limped off the field in Australia's final game of the World Cup 16 months ago.

A skipping rope on the back seat of his car is an obvious nod to his controversial new side project, boxing, but is also an important part of the five-eighth's renewed commitment to preparation, which includes knowing when to push and when to accept you're not ready.

''If I had my time over I would never have come back [to the Reds] so soon or when I did come back I wouldn't have played as much as I did because I just wasn't ready for it,'' he says.

Coming back from serious injury is the ultimate test of a quality athlete, balancing the time it takes to return to full physical and emotional strength against pressures from coaches, administrators and the athletes themselves.

As well as pushing his Super rugby return, Cooper now believes he might have been a ''liability'' for the Wallabies.

''The things I'm able to do, that are my abilities and the strengths I bring to the team, I just wasn't capable of doing those things,'' he says. ''I probably wouldn't have put my hand up to play because I feel like now I could have been a liability.''

Rugby Internationals 2014

Round 1
Sat, 07 JunTimes shown AEST
SAM 18 vs TGA 18 Report Stats
FJI 25 vs ITA 14 Report Stats
NZL 20 vs ENG 15 Report Stats
AUS 50 vs FRA 23 Report Stats
Sun, 08 JunTimes shown AEST
RSA 47 vs WXV 13 Report Stats
ARG 17 vs IRE 29 Report Stats
USA 6 vs SCO 24 Report Stats
CAN 25 vs JPN 34 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 2
Sat, 14 JunTimes shown AEST
SAM 15 vs ITA Report Stats
FJI 45 vs TGA 17 Report Stats
NZL 28 vs ENG 27 Report Stats
AUS 6 vs FRA Report Stats
Sun, 15 JunTimes shown AEST
RSA 38 vs WAL 16 Report Stats
CAN 17 vs SCO 19 Report Stats
ARG 17 vs IRE 23 Report Stats
USA 29 vs JPN 37 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 3
Sat, 21 JunTimes shown AEST
ARG 19 vs SCO 21 Report Stats
FJI 13 vs SAM 18 Report Stats
JPN 26 vs ITA 23 Report Stats
AUS 39 vs FRA 13 Stats
NZL 36 vs ENG 13 Report Stats
Sun, 22 JunTimes shown AEST
RSA 31 vs WAL 30 Report Stats
USA 38 vs CAN 35 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 4
Sun, 29 JunTimes shown AEST
RSA 55 vs SCO 6 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 5
Sun, 02 NovTimes shown AEDT
BAR 36 vs AUS 40 Report Stats
USA 6 vs NZL 74 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 6
Sun, 09 NovTimes shown AEDT
ITA 24 vs SAM 13 Report Stats
ENG 21 vs NZL 24 Report Stats
WAL 28 vs AUS 33 Report Stats
FRA 40 vs FJI 14 Report Stats
IRE 29 vs RSA 15 Report Stats
SCO 41 vs ARG 31 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 7
Sun, 16 NovTimes shown AEDT
ITA 18 vs ARG 20 Report Stats
ENG 28 vs RSA 31 Report Stats
WAL 17 vs FJI 13 Report Stats
SCO 16 vs NZL 24 Report Stats
FRA 29 vs AUS 26 Report Stats
Mon, 17 NovTimes shown AEDT
IRE 49 vs GEO 7 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 8
Sun, 23 NovTimes shown AEDT
ITA 6 vs RSA 22 Report Stats
SCO 37 vs TGA 12 Report Stats
IRE 26 vs AUS 23 Report Stats
WAL 16 vs NZL 34 Report Stats
ENG 28 vs SAM 9 Report Stats
FRA 13 vs ARG 18 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 9
Sun, 30 NovTimes shown AEDT
ENG 26 vs AUS 17 Report Stats
WAL 12 vs RSA 6 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
 
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