There’s as much to love about Ned Hanigan’s early-season form as Quade Cooper’s start to his Super Rugby stint in Melbourne.
But of course Quade is getting plenty more plaudits.
Has Quade really been that influential for the undefeated Rebels? I’d say his form is being over-hyped simply because he’s back on the field following last season’s sabbatical in Brisbane.
Quade doesn’t have to cut up the dance floor to get a decent chunk of Australian rugby fans excited, he just needs to bust a few decent moves.
Ned could help some women to their seats before a game, play like Kieran Read, score the winning try with a minute to go and potentially still struggle to get a rap from his own Waratahs fans.
Quade’s standing in Australian rugby is similar to Glenn Maxwell’s to Aussie cricket fans. A Maxwell 40, in which he whacks the spinner back over his head for six, belts a reverse-sweep for four and smokes a quick over deep midwicket for a maximum is usually judged as far more superior to a Shaun Marsh 70 at a similar strike rate.
With Quade and Maxwell, it’s eye-catching and emotional. With ever exhilarating play, they drag the crowd with them. Something could happen at any moment; they’re as unpredictable as they are unconventional.
Intensifying the anticipation around Quade’s comeback was the fact that such a talented player lay dormant in their prime having been brushed by Queensland coach Brad Thorn last year.
But Quade’s return is additionally intriguing for Wallabies fans, who are searching for someone to shoot them into World Cup contention from a long way back. Bernard Foley has lost his zip and Quade can produce a bit of magic when not much is doing.
Granted it works both ways given his mercurial nature. He’s used to copping it from all directions when things aren’t going well.
As likely as he is to come up with a perfect 40-metre cross-kick for his winger to score in the corner, he could take a quick lineout throw and hurl a ridiculously ambitious pass that’s intercepted.
Being in a playmaker role, Quade is the subject of greater scrutiny than many of his teammates.
Plus given his off-field image as an Instagramming cool cat, he attracts more attention.
The Rebels sit top of the Australian Conference thanks to their three wins, but his contributions have been modest and not spectacular.
It’s certainly way too early to assert that he’s got his nose in front for the Wallabies’ No.10 jersey, as has been suggested by some.
His general play kicking has been solid and his passing slick. But his running game hasn’t been exceptional and his defence remains a worry. He missed a crucial tackle on Pete Samu last round that led to a Brumbies try.
Yet reading some of the reviews of his two games against the Brumbies and one against the Highlanders, one would think Quade is tearing it up at an almost Beauden Barrett-like level. His halves partner, Will Genia, has sparked more for the Rebels in attack, which is a blessing for Quade as he settles into life as a Rebel.
Of course with a World Cup ahead, Wallabies fans want to get excited. I’ll reserve judgement for a few more weeks, especially with the Rebels facing the tricky two-game tour of South Africa where they face the Lions and then the Sharks.
In Johannesburg on Saturday night, Quade will line up against the equally idiosyncratic Elton Jantjes and he’ll have the powerful Lions pack aiming their big men at him. Then he’ll take on classy Sharks five-eighth Robert Du Preez in Durban the following round in another tough assignment.
Quade will be eager to ensure he’s in a groove in South Africa as when he returns to Australia, he’ll be licking his lips to take down his old team, the Reds, but more importantly serve it up to Thorn following his unceremonious dumping in Brisbane. Now there’s a match-up that deserves plenty of hype.