Not one to pull punches, new Queensland Reds coaching boss Richard Graham says he has no problem with Quade Cooper stepping into the ring again despite the injury risk it poses to his stellar rugby career.
And a frank Graham agrees Cooper’s “outstanding” Wallabies spring tour should have him mentioned as a future Reds captain – however, he confirmed James Horwill will be skipper in 2014.
Cooper has made it clear since inspiring the Wallabies’ tour-ending 30-26 win over Wales that he will not follow in the footsteps of good mate Sonny Bill Williams, who has said he does not plan to continue a budding boxing career for at least three years.
Due to the hectic year-round rugby schedule, Cooper may be forced to cram his second professional bout in between Reds pre-season trials, similar to what he successfully pulled off earlier this year.
Cooper made a stunning professional debut with a first-round stoppage of insurance salesman Barry Dunnett on the undercard of Williams’ heavyweight win over former champion Francois Botha in Brisbane in February.
Graham would be forgiven for not wanting to see his star charge back in the ring as he prepares to officially take over the Reds reins from Ewen McKenzie.
But Graham said boxing training only seemed to benefit Cooper’s rugby game.
“Quade handled the situation last year. I have no issues (with him continuing boxing),” he said.
“I think physically it keeps him in really good condition.
“Over the years he has learned a lot of self discipline.
“I think he has really matured and that has reflected in his performances the last few weeks.”
Cooper has risen under McKenzie to become Australia’s vice-captain while Horwill has bounced back with outstanding form since being surprisingly stripped of the national captaincy.
Graham admitted a reformed Cooper had ensured he had no shortage of Reds captaincy candidates but would stick with incumbent Horwill in 2014.
“Quade has been outstanding on this tour,” he said.
“He is confident and when he is you see the full array of skills that he has got – I think that makes us a better team.
“Quade has been a leader here for the last three or four years by the nature of his position.
“(But) Horwill has captained the team very well. There is no reason in my mind to change the captaincy.”
Graham balked when it was suggested Horwill had relished being without the captaincy burden.
“I don’t think necessarily taking the captaincy off him was the catalyst (to tour form),” he said.
Graham said winger Rod Davies (knee) was their only injury concern ahead of a busy pre-season which will include a February 14 clash with Melbourne Rebels at “spiritual home” Ballymore.