Quade Cooper has revealed regaining lost respect from Wallabies teammates under heavy South African fire as the reason for a major form turnaround heading into his 50th Test.
Preparing to meet Wales at Millennium Stadium, the previously-exiled Cooper admitted his “turning point” came on receiving the team’s “Man of Gold” best-player award following their 27-8 loss to the Springboks in Cape Town.
It was a solid rather than spectacular display at Newlands by the enigmatic five-eighth but the internal players’ player honours meant plenty. It came 12 months after he rocked Australian rugby by labelling the Wallabies a toxic environment.
I think he’s a better player than he was in 2011 and I think he’ll continue to grow and the best is yet to come.
For Cooper, who razzle-dazzled his way to Super Rugby success in 2011, the rare recognition from his peers was acceptance that he again belonged and past deeds were forgiven.
“That was a great confidence booster,” he said. “The best accolades you can get are the accolades from your teammates and for me it was a special moment.
“It was one of the first times I had received that in my career and to receive it I felt confident in the support of the team moving forward.
“That was a great turning point for me.”
Since then, Cooper admitted his game has “clicked” as he’s starred as a major contributor to the 20 tries scored in four wins over Argentina, Italy, Ireland and Scotland and also shown a playmaking composure and assurance that many felt he lacked at Test level.
Long-time Queensland and Test halves partner Will Genia said he knew it meant a lot to a more mature Cooper to regain teammates’ trust.
“I think with everything that happened, the hardest thing was always going to be getting the respect of the dressing room back,” Genia said.
“The boys respected his contribution on the field, but more importantly off the field. He’s put a lot of time and effort and work into building relationships and bonds with the boys.
“That’s reflected in his performance as well.
“I think he’s a better player than he was in 2011 and I think he’ll continue to grow and the best is yet to come.”
Proud coach Ewen McKenzie also tipped Cooper would only improve, especially in the game-management stakes.
“I don’t think he’s the finished article by any stretch,” he said.
“There’s always the extravagant aspect to his game which he can do things that I can’t see anyone else do, or not many … but there’s also managing the game.”
McKenzie’s decision to further empower Cooper with the vice-captaincy has paid off handsomely and the 25-year-old has thrived with the position of responsibility.
Cooper celebrates his 50th Test for Australia in his first game against Wales since rupturing knee ligaments at the World Cup at Auckland’s Eden Park two years ago.
At the time, he had 35 caps. He added just three more last year as he struggled for form and confidence in his comeback.
“I feel like I’m in different form and different space,” Cooper said.
“I’m understanding the game a bit different to how it was played a few years ago.
“Everything was much more adlib.”