On the undercard: Quade Cooper vs ARU

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Suspended Queensland Reds player Quade Cooper carries the water. AAP Image/Dan Peled

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At the ARU head office, nestled in the leafy surrounds of St. Leonards, Quade Cooper is not a popular man. He isn’t the guy who will tow the party line on every occasion.

He also makes the mistakes like saying what he thinks, and retaining an awful manager.

Unfortunately for the ARU, and the traditional rugby fraternity, Cooper is also one of the better players in a country where locals love to fall back on the lack of ‘cattle’ excuse at every opportunity.

So, well done to the ARU. You’ve managed to cut off a talented exponent of the game while also alienating the young fan base.

Is there anything else you expected to achieve out of this “negotiation is an extension of punishment” fiasco?

Don’t kid yourself that the Wallabies and Reds are going to miraculously be better teams because he isn’t available anymore.

Cooper is, in fact, such a good number 10 that Robbie Deans put the career of Matt Giteau on ice once he saw Cooper step around some nice blocking, twirl around another defender and save Australia’s bacon against Italy in 2008.

There is no one else in Australia that can turn a match as well as Cooper can, short of Will Genia.

Let’s follow this thought further.

One of the shortcomings of Deans is that he isn’t often proactive when promoting talent. He often waits for an incumbent is injured before turning to the younger, more talented option. However Cooper is one of the instances where Deans was willing to make a proactive swap.

People watching Super Rugby knew that selecting Nick Cummins would be a benefit to the Wallabies. It took around two years of injuries, including a shocking experiment with Cooper Vuna, before Deans had to select Cummins.

A few other ex-forwards on The Roar often lament at Deans inability to pick the best props in the land and balance them with good bench options and substitutions. Deans will favour the incumbent almost every single time.

Even Deans couldn’t pretend Cooper wasn’t good enough. Soon after the Italy showing he was the preferred option at 10.

This mess echoes an article I wrote earlier while the “toxic environment” comments were reverberating around as if Cooper had burnt an Australian flag and posted photos on twitter of him kissing a silver fern. I talked about how rugby management has an inability to manage high profile players.

Quade Cooper was rightly punished for his outlandish remarks made through the wrong avenue of communication. He was fined and banned.

The ban lost some of its lustre because he was injured, however that was a known factor when they determined a correct punishment. It was also reported that the fine he received was the highest in the history of the game.

In comparison we have the case of Kurtley Beale who had to settle an assault case out of court. Quade Cooper pressed send on a micro-blogging platform that echoed the sentiments of not just himself but a number of Wallabies. Keeping the lack of fine for Beale in mind while assessing Cooper’s punishment shows he’s been hit fairly hard for his admitted miss-deeds.

Moving along to the contract situation – which does play out against the backdrop of his outburst and punishment – and we see some very strange behaviour by the ARU.

Cooper has been offered a contract that is incentive based from the ARU side of the table. This is ludicrious.

Really, there are only two reasons for this sort of contract offer. Either the ARU wanted to give Cooper a reason to leave the game without actually firing him, or they want to start make incentive contracts a regular occurrence for Wallabies players.

The first reason is chicken, low and I hope for our game as a whole that isn’t the reason they negotiated that way. If the ARU doesn’t want to retain Cooper’s services they should fire him, tell the supporters of the game why and let everyone move on. It doesn’t seem logical.

I don’t see why the ARU needs to rub Cooper from the game. So I hope this tactic isn’t in play.

Cooper did some silly things, but they aren’t really more than that. He was punished fairly strongly for them as well so it should now be for the ARU to resume normal business as a management team, not some sort of mortally wounded partner.

Looking at the second reason provides more room to label the tactic as something other than low and cowardly, but doesn’t paint a pretty picture either.

Cooper has admittedly come off a long term injury that may affect his worth to the game over the long term. For that reasons a slightly revised contract would be understandable. But to break tradition with almost every other contract offered is a slight on the player.

I believe incentive payments are the way forward for the ARU to manage money well in the future. This change needs to be done with clear communication it is the way forward and with structures in place to enable the Super Rugby teams to pay players a bit more of a base salary.

Put it this way: if Cooper deserves to be only on incentive payments because of his injury then Drew Mitchell, Wycliffe Palu, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Stephen Moore, Will Genia, Berrick Barnes and others all have injury problems that would put them in the same boat as Cooper. They should be on similar contracts.

If Barnes, Palu or Polota-Nau earn $1 of guaranteed money in their payments then the ARU has botched this completely.

If the reported contract offer is accurate we are left with the ARU punishing Cooper further than they decided to in their hearing and trying to flush him out of the game. And the alternative is a strange coincidence that incentive-based contracts are the way forward and that the first botched attempt at doing it with a player in his prime was Quade Cooper.

So: is the ARU the spurned girlfriend, or the bumbling accountant?

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