Quade Cooper, once the enfant terrible of Australian rugby who battled with Robbie Deans and Michael Cheika, says he’s spent his four years in the international wilderness trying to become a better man.
Cooper was considered too hot to handle by some of his previous coaches, including no-nonsense Reds boss Brad Thorn, as well as his disputes with national team coaches amidst accusations of a toxic culture at the Wallabies.
Whatever other bosses have made of him, current Wallabies coach Dave Rennie is a fan – having brought the 33-year-old playmaker in to help mentor, and for now replace, young flyhalf Noah Lolesio.
And Cooper, speaking slowly, deliberately and in almost Zen like tones, was eager to showcase his personal growth during Friday’s press conference.
“It’s exciting. I’m very grateful for the opportunity to be back,” Cooper said.
“Also, it just means something totally different than what it used to in terms of who I am as a man, as a player, kind of what it represents.
“I just know everything that’s gone into being here and being in this moment.”
In recent years Cooper has overhauled his diet, fitness regime, and suggested he had to leave some of his former friends behind.
“I’ve lost things in my life, I’ve had people removed from my life,” Cooper said. “Being a better man has been the main focus for the past few years. Football aside that’s been my journey.”
He said the lifestyle changes weren’t about winning back his gold jersey.
“It was just quality of life,” he said. “Making changes and growing as a person, getting my life in a place where rugby or being a Wallaby doesn’t define who I am as a man.
“I guess before that, it’s kind of all I knew. Everything I did was basically with the mask or the identity of Quade Cooper, the Wallaby.
“For me to be able to get discipline into my life, my everyday … being happy outside of rugby, being happy with the process of what it is to be a rugby player – waking up looking to win the day through discipline, through great habits has allowed me the opportunity to be back here.”
Cooper’s fame came early and with a burning intensity. He’s still the biggest name in the game Down Under despite being away from the national team for so long.
“I just didn’t know anything else so being a young kid coming to the arena, and the game so early, I struggled with the identity of who I was as a person,” Cooper said.
“All that I knew was Quade Cooper, rugby player. I didn’t really know how to be just myself or what that was.
“So you think about the last five years? I haven’t played for Australia.
“I was able to have time to go away and see, what were the things that mattered to me on a day to day.
“How do I approach every day? What are the things that I stand for?
“There are a lot of things over the past few years that have tested me and there’s a lot of things that I’ve been able to learn from – some of the mistakes I’ve made in the past.
He said he didn’t return to the squad with “preconceived ideas” about whether he would get the chance or not.
“Obviously, the opportunity of being in these four walls you have the opportunity to be selected. And every day I love that opportunity to spend time with Noah, see him grow, you know, and be around these bunch of men, our coaching staff,” Cooper said.
“I’ve learned some incredible things on the rugby field, and I know that I’ll be able to take them to Japan, when that time comes. My whole thing about coming in here was about growth. And I’ve been fortunate to be able to have found that.”