Reds haven't given up hope on Cooper
Controversial Reds pivot Quade Cooper. Photo: Getty Images
Quade Cooper's relationship with Robbie Deans and the ARU might radiate about as much warmth as a polar icecap but the Queensland Reds haven't given up hope of retaining their star five-eighth for coming Super Rugby seasons.
While the ARU has remained silent on Cooper's stinging criticism of what he described as a "toxic environment", the Reds have continued their discussions with Cooper in the hope he can be persuaded to stay with the code.
At the moment, it is almost certain Cooper will look elsewhere next season unless there is drastic change on the Wallabies landscape. He is out of favour with Deans and given the critical output from Cooper over the past week, their presence in Camp Wallaby is surely mutually exclusive.
But the communication lines remain open with Ballymore. Cooper spoke with Reds chief executive Jim Carmichael last night and it's believed he indicated he was still enthusiastic about playing rugby in Queensland, where he has become a major face of the reborn Reds.
Without an ARU component to the three-year deal agreed upon in June, that can't happen, meaning either Cooper and his management will have to bite the bullet and deal with the ARU or they will test his worth on the open market, potentially in the NRL.
Given the conservative tactics employed by Deans and Cooper's battle to fit comfortably into that system of play, the Wallabies may be happy to look elsewhere for a regular number 10.
But that's unlikely to be much solace for the Reds, who face losing one their most marketable faces just as crowds and memberships reach record levels.
Cooper is one of the most divisive players ever to play the game in Australia. Yesterday's story on Fairfax Media websites about his potential move to rugby league attracted hundreds of comments, some backing his outspoken stance and others bidding him good riddance.
But there can be no argument of the popularity of Cooper in Queensland and his part in reinvigorating the code after years in the doldrums. His willingness to innovate and attack helped make the Reds the toast of the game in 2011, when they won the Super Rugby title.
As a result of that success and a targeted marketing push off the field, the Reds now average higher crowds than the Brisbane Broncos and have increased their membership from a woeful 6225 in 2009 to 32,640 at the end of last season. For a brand formerly on death's door, it remains a staggering effort.
The building blocks are now in place to ensure that momentum remains in spite of player movements. But losing a high profile, media friendly entertainer who was thought to be staying for a further three years won't lift many spirits in Brisbane should no common ground be found.
Cooper's Wallabies team-mate Adam Ashley-Cooper was the man put forward the national side as they prepare for their Test against the Springboks in Pretoria. He said Cooper's comments were no distraction to their preparation.
"There's a great buzz in the squad and we're excited to be here," Ashley-Cooper said.
"We've had two good wins in this competition and we feel we're building as a group."
But while Ashley-Cooper is painting a happy picture, there's little doubt other players in the Wallabies set-up share similar gripes to those aired clumsily by Cooper over the weekend.
Whether they also speak up could depend heavily on results in Africa and Argentina over coming weeks.