Quade’s baaaccckkk!!! And his Wallaby mates aren’t happy

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Quade Cooper with manager Khoder Nasser (AAP Image/Dan Peled)

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Roy Masters has the best sporting contacts in Sydney. Wayne Smith is a virtual spokesman of the Queensland Rugby Union. On Saturday both these well-informed journalists wrote about the case of Quade Cooper and its side-kick, the Israel Folau issue.

The main conclusion that can be drawn from the articles published in The Australian and The Sydney Morning Herald is that Australian rugby has created a fine mess for itself.

Everyone involved seems to be leaking like sieves on these matters. Putting all the articles and leaks together we get a picture of a wilful, untrustworthy (in my view) and egocentric Cooper playing off the various parties involved with his rugby contract in a manner that insults the code he makes huge amounts of money playing for.

Let’s start at the end, as it were. Cooper’s contract with the Reds and the ARU ends on December 31.

It is the biggest of any current Wallaby mainly because when it was negotiated Cooper insisted that he be granted $1 more than Matt Giteau, who had been the highest paid Australian rugby player.

With a December 31 deadline in mind, the ARU back in April (note the date) put an extremely generous offer for 2013/2014 on the table to Cooper and his manager Khoder Nasser.

Cooper refused to sign the offer and during his infamous interview on The Rugby Club maintained that the offers to him were totally unacceptable. The April offer was actually over-generous given the fact that Cooper had played a very poor 2011 Rugby World Cup tournament.

Ironically, Robbie Deans was criticised by many people (including numbers of Roarers) for playing Cooper in the semi-final against New Zealand.

Cooper, too, was out injured, knee damage suffered during the 2011 Rugby World Cup third place play-off.

There was also the juvenile twittering throughout 2011, the stupidity of kneeing Richie McCaw in several Tests, boorish and trash behaviour with Kurtley Beale and James O’Connor, the self-styled ‘Three Amigos’ and the matter of police action involving two laptops.

Given all this, the ARU showed terrific good faith and, indeed, some compassion in making its generous offer to Cooper in April.

This good faith and compassion was met with a surly arrogance that reflects poorly on Cooper.

Instead of accepting the offer or negotiating in good faith on a few minor details, Nasser (presumably acting on Cooper’s instruction) start to make a series of unacceptable demands.

One of the demands was for an arrangement allowing Cooper to have boxing matches during his rugby season, a sort of small man’s Sonny Bill Williams option. A frustrated ARU told Cooper and his manager that he could have his boxing option when he learns to tackle. Gotcha!

It was clear to everyone involved with the contract negotiations that there was little good faith involved in their deals with Cooper and Nasser.

Cooper himself talked about wanting to play rugby league with his mate Sonny Bill. This is hardly the sort of talk any code wants to hear from one of its highest paid star players.

When Cooper finally got back on the field, he played adequately for the Reds and poorly for the Wallabies. Again, Deans was criticised for restoring him and retaining him in the starting line-up.

The frustrating negotiations between the ARU and the Cooper/Nasser pair continued.

Cooper played poorly for the Wallabies and, apparently, was criticised by the Wallaby coaching staff.

Now injured Cooper began a campaign to unseat the coach who had first promoted him into the Wallabies, who had stuck with him during the 2011 Rugby World Cup tournament and who had restored him to the Wallabies this year despite lacklustre form after a long time out of rugby because of a leg injury.

During his infamous interview Cooper bizarrely called the gold Wallaby jersey ‘yellow’ and said that the atmosphere in the Wallabies was so ‘toxic’ he couldn’t see himself playing again for the team with its current management.

This totally unacceptable behaviour forced the ARU to withdraw his contract. Cooper was fined and then offered a greatly reduced contract which relied on incentive payments from playing for the Wallabies to enhance the $400,000 contract he’d already signed with the Reds.

Now here is the crucial information that has not been revealed. Senior Wallabies (including Queensland players) informed the ARU they didn’t want Cooper back in the Wallabies squad.

The push to get the ARU to upgrade Cooper’s contract came from the officials at the Queensland Reds. And why? The SMH reported at the time: ‘Cooper’s supporters within the game believe the situation would change dramatically if Wallabies coach Robbie Deans were sacked and replaced by Reds coach, Ewen McKenzie, with whom he has a good relationship.’

Rugby politics now comes in to provide a conclusion of sorts to the unedifying saga.

Earlier this year the ARU commissioned a report into a new governance structure for ARU which is needed for the organisation to receive government money to finance the Sevens Rugby men and women’s programs, particularly, in the run-up to the Rio Olympics in 2016.

The structure recommended ends the veto power of the NSW and Queensland unions.

Masters and Smith hinted at the truth about how the politics of the new governance structure was used by the Reds officials to force the ARU to come to heel to stop the Cooper barking.

The Reds told the ARU it would not sign the new governance proposal until the ARU signed up Cooper. The chairman of the ARU, Michael Hawker, dealt with Nasser in a one-on-one negotiation.

Cooper was given every thing he wanted, including a boxing match in early February, and about $800,000 from the ARU and Reds.

The outcome was a total capitulation by the ARU, and a repudiation of the advice from senior Wallabies and senior officials at the ARU.

We now get to the stories last Saturday by Masters and Smith.

Masters reported that Israel Folau not only signed a deal with the Waratahs. He also was given a secret $400,000 top-up from the ARU. It was this top-up making Folau a $650,000 plus rugby player, rather than any weakness in the NRL negotiations, that tipped the player into the Waratahs camp.

And how did the Waratahs get the ARU to front up with the extra massive amount of money? By refusing to sign up to the new governance structure unless the ARU delivered Folau to the franchise. Anything the Reds can do, it seems, the Waratahs can emulate.

An important point needs to be made here. In 2008, the ARU was paying a Wallaby top-up to over 50 Super Rugby players. In the years since then it has been the policy of the ARU’s board to cut back on these top-ups (the money isn’t available to service them in the future).

There has been steady progress to putting players on incentive payments based on the number of Tests they played.

But this progress has now been slowed down, if not entirely stopped. For immediately after the Cooper final deal, managers of prominent Wallabies were in contact with the ARU looking to Cooper-ise their clients’ contracts.

In The Australian, Wayne Smith suggested that there is a growing belief in the ARU that Michael Cheika, rather than Ewen McKenzie, should take over as the Wallaby coach if Deans is forced out. There are concerns, Smith reports, that the Cooper/McKenzie push is being seen as part of an attempted Queensland takeover of the ARU.

Finally, here is a par from Danny Weidler’s sports gossip column in Sunday’s Sun-Herald that gives the flavour of the delusional Cooper/Nasser world:

“Quade Cooper is taking his boxing debut more seriously than he’d like anyone to know. He has been training three times a day for his February 8 debut. He finally got the respect he was after from the ARU. His deal will be worth close to $1 million a year.

“If the promises that Cooper has been made come true, his detractors at the ARU should be looking over their shoulders. It all points to Robbie Deans being shown the door.”

UPDATED: Response from Waratahs Rugby

Waratahs Rugby wishes to categorically confirm that there was no connection whatsoever between the signing of Israel Folau and the ARU’s Governance Review.

The NSW Rugby Union and Waratahs Rugby are completely separate entities. Under the licence agreement between NSWRU and Waratahs Rugby, NSWRU has no influence whatsoever on the recruitment, appointment or selection of the HSBC Waratahs team, its staff or players.

Whilst the ARU’s Governance Review reduced the votes given to NSWRU from five to three, these changes have no impact on Waratahs Rugby, who continue to receive one of these votes (in line with all five Australian Super Rugby teams).

Waratahs Rugby and NSW Rugby Union have written to The Roar to correct the factual inaccuracies contained in Mr Zavos’ article. As a well regarded and experienced rugby journalist, we believe The Roar readers would expect Mr Zavos’ articles to be factually correct and point out that, as with all journalists, he is always welcome to contact us for clarification on any matter should it be required. We look forward to hearing the thoughts of Mr Zavos and the rest of The Roar’s excellent panel of rugby writers as we approach an exciting season of Super Rugby and The Lions action in 2013.

Spiro Zavos’ response:
Waratahs Rugby and myself are at an disagreement here. Waratahs Rugby have refused to ask their chairman Roger Davis whether he and the chairman of the ARU, Michael Hawker, discussed the ARU’s Governance Review when negotiating an ARU salary top-up for Israel Folau.

I specifically asked Waratahs Rugby to put this question to Mr Davis and publish his reply. They refused to do so.

If there was ‘no connection whatsoever’ between the signing of Israel Folau and the ARU’s Governance Review, why wouldn’t Mr Davis confirm that this matter was NOT discussed during the Folau negotiations?

I would make one further point that goes to the heart of this issue. The ARU’s Governance Review, which required 75 per cent of members to vote it in, and which substantially reduced the voting power of the NSW Rugby Union on the ARU board, was voted in within something like 30 minutes. This is unprecedented for the implementation of governance reforms in the history of
the ARU. Victoria was the only dissenting rugby union.

Spiro Zavos, a founding writer on The Roar, was long time editorial writer on the Sydney Morning Herald, where he started a rugby column that has run for nearly 30 years. Spiro has written 12 books: fiction, biography, politics and histories of Australian, New Zealand, British and South African rugby. He is regarded as one of the foremost writers on rugby throughout the world.
What a year 2014 has been in rugby! From the highs of the Waratahs winning the Super Rugby title, to the lows of the infamous saga that swamped our national team. What are your reflections on the year that was? What's on your Christmas wishlist for next year? If you're feeling inspired, you can share it with other Roarers by submitting an article.
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