Accompanying the announcement of Quade Cooper’s signing with the Melbourne Rebels was a photograph of ex-dual international and Queensland Reds coach Brad Thorn and Cooper. There is no love lost between the two, not during their playing careers nor when Thorn dropped Cooper from the Red’s squad.
There was also a suggestion that Cooper could be considered for the Wallabies where he would undoubtedly meet the All Blacks, many of whom he is acquainted with.
There is no love lost between the All Blacks and Quade Cooper. He was reported for kneeing All Black great Richard McCaw in the head. No one in New Zealand has forgiven him and he attracts special attention whenever he plays New Zealand, some of it legitimate, some of it not quite so.
But what makes Quade Cooper symptomatic of the problems facing Australian rugby.
The first is that he is not very good player by international standards. He plays at fly half or inside centre and compared with the gold standards, he falls far short.
The last three fly halfs to play for the All Blacks, Grant Fox, Dan Carter and Beauden Barrett have all been infinitely superior to Cooper. In fairness, Dan Carter was probably the greatest fly half of all time. But New Zealand has been able to fill this position with players of outstanding calibre for the last 20 years.
Sometimes Cooper will play at inside centre and here the comparison is no more favourable. Ma’a nonu, Tana Umaga, Sonny Bill Williams, Joe Stanley are or were bigger better and stronger.
The other aspect is that all of these players have been in outstanding combinations. Nonu, Williams and Umaga with Conrad Smith. Stanley with Warwick Taylor. And they’ve had some of the greatest wing three quarters/full backs playing outside them: Christian Cullen, Jeff Wilson, Jonah Lomu.
The point of all this? When you think of the standout All Blacks that Cooper would have played against, all of them have been in teams with outstanding players playing outside them. This has not been the case for any Australian backline in the current century when Australia has won just 16 out of 63 test matches against New Zealand.
What this adds up to is man for man, position for position Australia has been unable to match the current world champions for more than a decade.
And they continue to rely on players such as Kurtley Beale to be their main playmaker.
And like Cooper, Beale is not a great rugby player nor has he had the advantage of having a supercharged backline of the kind that the All Blacks have been fielding for the last two decades, to play outside him.
Australia has been unable to develop a talent pool in the way that New Zealand has. And the fact that the ageing Cooper could be considered for Wallaby selection indicates there are no young rising stars to brighten the future of Australian rugby.