As the man who orchestrated Quade Cooper's 2016 Australian rugby homecoming, Michael Cheika knows how bad a look it is to have a 70-Test Wallaby pocketing $650,000 a season to do nothing.
So does Raelene Castle, the former Bulldogs chief executive running the show at Rugby Australia. Would anyone cop the Roosters' $2 million man Cooper Cronk playing park footy if a sudden coaching change saw him fall out of favour? Incorrect.
"It's not a perfect situation, no doubt," Castle said on Friday. But both are pragmatists, too, and Cheika, as a former Super Rugby coach, has stood in the same shoes as Reds coach Brad Thorn.
"You write your own script, they're the decisions you make and then you become accountable for those going forward," he said. "I would like to see [Cooper] play again, for sure. It's really important we try to find a place – I know the Reds don't want him up there – where we can see him play and keep him available for Australia."
That is the short-term fix. Cheika spoke to a stinging Cooper earlier this week and made it clear he was still a wanted man at Test level, even though his last appearance in the gold jersey was in last year's June Test series. The goal now is to find the entertaining playmaker a gig elsewhere in Super Rugby, or in Europe or Japan, where his 70 caps allow Cheika to pick him from abroad if the need arises.
The long-term fix is more complex but already underway. It would mean that in future, where a player of national interest is concerned, the relationship between Wallabies and Super Rugby coaches will be robust enough that these matters will be talked through before – not after – a player is shown the door.
"As we start to manoeuvre the collaboration piece we have in the coaching sphere up into the other tiers as well, we're going to get better outcomes. We're going to get better informed with each other," Cheika said.
"When it becomes more normalised and people understand it better – it hasn't really been a cultural piece for us – once we do more of that we're going to get better outcomes on all these other things."
Cheika said he felt for Cooper, adding it would not be easy coming to terms with the fact he was now unwanted at the Reds.
"That would not be an easy thing for him to be dealing with," he said. "As a footballer, that's not nice when your coach says, 'We don't want you'.
"I think now would be about the time to start saying, 'How are we going to deal with that'. You can't just sit around and hope we get an outcome. Let's try to make something happen."
The tripartite nature of Australia's player contracts has not made the situation easier. The Nick Stiles-coached Reds were happy to give Cooper a home when Cheika set his sights on the 29-year-old five-eighth. Fairfax Media understands that Rugby Australia agreed to finance up to 75 per cent of the three-year deal, with Queensland left to contribute the balance. But with new coach Thorn determined to go in a different direction just one season into the arrangement, Rugby Australia has been left holding a very expensive baby.
"It's not a perfect science," Castle said. "Knowing whether to contract players for three years or four years or two years ... sometimes you get it really right and sometimes you get a situation like the Quade situation where you go, 'Gee, if I had the benefit of that hindsight we might have contracted him for a shorter period'.
"But we are where we are. I know he wants to work hard and make sure he can come back and play in that Super Rugby space because he wants to prove his worth."
Cheika also weighed in on Hunt, the Queensland Rugby Union's other dilemma. Hunt has voluntarily stood down from all training with the Reds following his arrest on drug possession charges late last year. Reports suggest police will drop all charges ahead of Hunt's second court date later this month but as another player on a substantial Wallaby "top-up", the protracted case is another unwanted headache for both the Reds and Rugby Australia."I think he'd be personally down and let himself down in that situation," Cheika said. "But he's not an evil person that's for sure. He's a good bloke, he made a mistake in the past. I think now we'll talk with the Reds, see where we're at going forward and work together with Karmichael to see where we're going to go from here."