Reds won’t be thrown by Cooper’s return
BRYCE Hegarty says the Reds are too fixated on finetuning their own improvements to target Quade Cooper on his return to Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night.
The "Cooper v Brad Thorn" narrative may have fans and the media enthralled but it hasn't seeped into the mindset of players like the new Reds flyhalf.
Hegarty wasn't even in the squad when Cooper was cold-shouldered out of the Reds ranks last year and found his new home at the Melbourne Rebels.
Cooper's playmaking has transformed the Rebels and the potency of his outside backs, with Jack Maddocks (six) and Tom English (five) relishing hot streaks for tries.
Restricting Cooper's space to operate would be an obvious plan, but he has no special target on his back.
"Not at all. The focus is all our game and how we want to play," Hegarty said.
"He's been a good player for a long time in Australian rugby.
"He's got the respect of me and other players that he deserves but I don't focus too much at all on him or any other player when I've got things I want to execute for the team.
"For us, this match is just super important for our season."
For coach Thorn, he can't understand why he is still being asked about Cooper 16 months after he made the decision to cut him from his Reds' plans.
The in-form Cooper has fanned the flame himself with recent tweets like this: "One man's rubbish is another man's treasure."
It's also true that Cooper is not the player, on field, that Thorn dumped.
He's tackling better, kicking goals better (70 per cent), taking the ball to the line better and operating in a better-coached backline than the one he was part of in 2017.
After 119 games for the Reds, it will be a fascinating night watching Cooper back scheming in tandem with halfback Will Genia. For the Rebels. Against Queensland. At Suncorp.
Whether Cooper might inadvertently be targeted is a live question because flanker Angus Scott-Young is fronting a judicial hearing on Wednesday night.
Of all the Brumbies who might have copped an alleged punch at the bottom of a ruck last Sunday, it was prop James Slipper, another former Red.
Not accepting the suspension offered by a foul play review panel on Monday night means the Reds are unhappy with the length of ban and they feel there is room to call Scott-Young's act a clumsy swinging-arm clean-out or a glancing blow.
Either way, the Reds must prepare for Saturday night without influential backrowers Scott-Young and Caleb Timu, who was sent off in a club game at the weekend for punching.
Hegarty said building momentum from the 36-14 win over the Brumbies was vital.
"We want to pride ourselves on being that consistent side that constantly delivers," he said.
Building momentum in his own game is just as important after his organising and excellent general kicking against the Brumbies.
The Reds (10 points) can leapfrog the Rebels (13) in the Australian Conference with a win and pressure the NSW Waratahs (14).