“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure”.
They are Quade Cooper’s words, written in an Instagram post earlier this month after Melbourne’s 29-26 comeback win over the Brumbies.
Of course the target of his dig was Brad Thorn, the Queensland coach who cut him loose after playing more than 100 games and winning a title for the Reds.
The sacking and flicking to Brisbane club rugby was done with one of the more humiliating explanations for a professional athlete in a team sport: that Cooper wasn’t the right fit culturally.
For a proud combatant in a tough sport that relies on camaraderie and collaboration, it would’ve been like a twist of the knife for Quade.
It’s why Cooper’s performance and demeanour will be well worth watching in Saturday night’s clash between the Rebels and Reds back at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane, a ground he steered Queensland around over so many seasons.
Don’t believe Will Genia when he says it’s just another game for Quade.
Don’t buy the chat from Reds defensive coach Peter Ryan when he says he “couldn’t give a rat’s” about Quade, or Genia, also a former Reds favourite returning to Brisbane.
Quade would’ve had this Super Rugby clash sketched big and bold in the diary on the day he signed with the Rebels.
Presumably there’s no bad blood with his former Reds team-mates and the Reds fans would retain a strong level of affection for him.
But he wants to serve it up to Thorn. He wants to rub his nose in it. It’s not just another game for Quade.
Quade probably won’t get a chance to go full Nick Kyrgios on Thorn if the Rebels win.
But if they do get up, he won’t be waiting until later to post a Thorn critique on social media.
Expect Quade’s reactions to be more instant than Instagram.
And who can blame him. He was cut ruthlessly and publicly, and why wouldn’t he seek some sort of revenge?
Athletes sometimes remind us – usually when things have gone awry – that they’re not robots and they are as emotionally vulnerable as anyone else.
Why would we expect them not to be?
It’s one of the more alluring features of elite competitive sport: that we get to witness the unbridled emotions of top-level athletes as they’re put under often immense pressure, physically and psychologically.
Quade’s trash and treasure post wasn’t the first time he’s sought to take a swipe at Thorn.
In October, just before he confirmed his new contract to leave Queensland and sign with the Rebels, Cooper again used Instagram to make a point, or a palm.
He posted a photo of him trying to fend off Thorn in the 2011 Rugby World Cup semi-final between the Wallabies and All Blacks.
His caption read: “Sometimes you are forced out of the place you love but thank god there’s more than one place that loves me.”
It will be intriguing to see how Cooper is greeted by the Reds fans in Brisbane.
As mentioned, there should remain a certain degree of respect for his Queensland career, especially given he was a prominent player in their 2011 Super Rugby title-winning team.
But they would be warming to Thorn given he stands for what a lot of Queenslanders admire. Tough, gritty, take-no-crap sort of bloke.
Plus they will be buoyed by last weekend’s steam-rolling of the Brumbies and the hope that Thorn has turned them around after some horrible seasons.
Adding to Cooper’s motivation to turn it on, he’s building nicely towards a Wallabies recall during this World Cup year. During the week, George Gregan picked him ahead of Bernard Foley and Matt Toomua as his starting five-eighth for Australia.
Even though the Rebels were run down by the Lions and overpowered by the Sharks to lose both matches on their South African tour, Cooper performed strongly.
For many, his blunder against the Lions will linger in which he tried to shepherd the ball over the dead-ball line but a try was scored under his nose.
However, he was instrumental in building a big lead in the first half and he varied his attacking options nicely.
His trajectory towards a Wallabies jersey is heading in the right direction. In a previous article in which I called for calm over Quade’s form after three games for a new club and after a whole season off, many were angered that Quade is unfairly marked.
It’s understandable that he’s proven what he can do over many seasons for the Reds and Wallabies, but my point simply was that a trio of solid outings after a year off at Super Rugby level means we could wait a little longer before ushering him in as the Wallabies’ 2019 World Cup messiah.
Just a bit of restraint required.
But this next step against the Reds will be one that strongly defines his season. We’ve heard all week it’s just another game.
Quade will be under a decent amount of self-imposed pressure as he’ll largely be itching to flip the bird to Brad at full-time.
Rugby needs these sub-plots. It doesn’t need to pump up battles like the UFC. But at the same time, the game could do better at self-promotion and stop pretending that emotional friction and ego isn’t a factor in some match-ups.
The banter doesn’t need to be bitter and vindictive, but in the build-up, perhaps recognise the history behind the battle.
Let’s not imagine that pride isn’t a prominent emotion for the game’s elite professionals.
The TV cameras should follow Quade as closely as the South African cameramen followed Cameron Bancroft in the field in Cape Town.
And it won’t be disappointing.
There’s plenty of passion in rugby, and few chances to let raw emotion out.
Quade won’t miss the chance.