Playing in NRL a lifelong dream, says Quade Cooper

Former Wallabies superstar Quade Cooper has declared his desire to play in the NRL this year and outlined a plan to meet with clubs in coming weeks about the prospect of ‘‘fulfilling a lifelong dream’’.

Cooper, who has been back in Brisbane since January, still has another eight months before he is due to play again for Japanese rugby side Kintetsu Liners, and is considering asking the club for permission to explore a short-term NRL deal before the June 30 deadline.

Quade Cooper during his time with the Melbourne Rebels.Credit:AAP

"I had a great time in Japan and Kintetsu has been nothing short of amazing," Cooper told The Herald on Monday.

"The experience, the club, the people … and I'm very much looking forward to going back there. But with their blessing, if they said that they don't mind me going to the NRL for that short three- or four-month season to do something I've always wanted to achieve, then mate, I'd jump at the opportunity to fulfil a dream that I've had since I was a kid. The way things are kind of working out, it could be one where all the stars align."

While the Herald has been told the Bulldogs are likely to make further inquiries to bolster their halves, Gold Coast Titans head of football Mal Meninga expressed a willingness to meet with the 32-year-old to discuss the potential of filling the club’s final spot on the roster ahead of an anticipated May 28 competition return.

"We’d discuss it, for sure, and see what we think," Meninga said.

Mal Meninga is willing to talk to Quade Cooper about a potential deal with the Titans.Credit:AAP

"There's no doubt he has the skill there. Any of the union guys, especially the backs, who are brought up on league can make the transition. There is a gamble there because ideally you'd want him to have a pre-season because you can't play him in reserve grade.

"You'd have to throw him straight in. You don't want someone like that to come to a club and fail. We'll probably have to wait and see what sort of money we have to spend in the salary cap as well, but we'll talk about it."

The very thought of being thrown into the NRL without a single game of rugby league under your belt in more than 15 years would be daunting for most, but Cooper sees such a challenge as motivation.

"I’d love that," Cooper said. "That's the thing, going in there and jumping straight into it, I'd back myself. When I played my first game for the Reds, I was in grade 12 and Eddie (Jones) took me over to Japan and we played against the Japanese international team. I literally went from playing against school kids to an international team. If you’re going to learn, you’re going to learn pretty quickly being thrown in there.

"Jumping out on a rugby league field, it would be one of those things that I know that I would do well in terms of your effort, your skill, your ability. And the stage? That's what you want as an athlete. To play on those stages and challenges. The unknown is one of those things that is kind of scary but exciting at the same time."

With the NRL in the midst of financial hardship as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, there is uncertainty around the salary cap in 2020 and beyond, but also around the financial viability of clubs. Given most teams have 29 of their 30 spots filled already, Cooper – who revealed he pulled the pin on a deal with the Eels at the 11th hour more than a decade ago – wouldn’t be in for a massive pay day.

He would have to weigh up whether it would be worth risking a lucrative contract in Japan, but Cooper insists there’s more to life than money.

"Here’s the thing, money is not the be all and end all," he said.

"It is a massive thing for athletes, but there's more than just that. When you’re talking three or four months in the NRL, there’s a hit you’re going to cop but it’s not the end of the world. It’s not a two or three year deal. I have been fortunate enough to play for a while and earn money.

"I'm lucky that in Japan there has been no issues around my pay or having to take a pay cut. At the end of the day, if the opportunity arose you’d have to look at it and weigh everything up."

Cooper has been training with Broncos forward Tevita Pangai-Junior at Red Hill in recent weeks, but the Broncos have committed to their 30-man roster. However, the former Reds five-eighth says he’s not afraid to move out of Queensland to give it a crack.

"I don’t mind who I play for," he said. "Being a Queensland boy, I love Brisbane. I’m close to the Broncos boy and have always supported Queensland. But I grew up in New Zealand, my team was the Roosters and my favourite player was Brad Fittler. Then I loved the Tigers with Benji Marshall. Then when Sonny, who is now like a brother to me, came on to the scene, I was a massive Dogs supporter. For me it's about playing the game I've always wanted to play and conquering a challenge.

"I reckon six would be my best position. Theoretically I could play fullback or in the centres, but fullback is a bit of specialist position in the game, especially with the high balls and bringing the ball back. For me my biggest strength in the game is my ball skills and my communication skills driving people around the field."

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