Queensland’s desire for another line-breaking threat at fullback will force Quade Cooper to move back into the front line of the Reds defence.
Quade Cooper’s long stint defending at fullback has ended with the Queensland Reds sending the Wallabies playmaker back to the front line of battle this Super Rugby season.
Cooper has been a staple in the last line of defence for the Reds over the past four seasons but new coach Richard Graham is keen to play a traditional, dynamic fullback in his backline.
Injury-plagued Aidan Toua and Waratahs recruit Lachie Turner, both blistering attacking players, will get first cracks at winning Queensland’s No.15 jersey when they play the defending champion Chiefs in Toowoomba on Saturday night.
Graham wants more try-scoring potency in his backline after a dour 2013, where the Reds managed less than two tries a game, and Turner or Toua would deliver extra pace and another line-breaking threat.
The likes of converted half Ben Lucas or hard-nosed centres Mike Harris and Jono Lance have started at fullback in past seasons but moved into the front line in defence for Cooper to manage the kick-returns and be shielded from tackling big ball-runners.
Graham said he had full confidence in the Wallabies vice-captain’s ability to defend strongly in the No.10 channel in 2014, and the recent Wallabies’ spring tour showed his worth.
With Israel Folau a standout at No.15 for Australia in the five Tests in Europe, Cooper stayed in the front line and muscled up.
“I thought he did a really good job in the front line,” said Graham, an assistant to ex-Test coach Robbie Deans in 2009-10.
“I toured with Quade with the Wallabies in 2009 and he played inside centre on that grand slam tour and defended really well.”
Cooper, who came through his second pro-boxing fight unscathed last week, will have a battle to keep the Reds goalkicking duties with sharp-shooter Harris also given a chance to impress in their two trials against the Chiefs and Melbourne Rebels (February 14).
While the Reds’ best pack for their competition opener against the Brumbies on February 22 looks mostly settled, the three-quarter line is wide open, highlighted by Harris, Ben Tapuai, Anthony Fainga’a and Chris Feauai-Sautia fighting for two centre spots.
Hooker James Hanson (illness) is the only Queenslander unavailable for Saturday night’s opening trial with all recent Test tourists set for a major hit-out against the 2012 and 2013 champions.