Thorn urged to bury hatchet and recall Cooper at Reds
FORMER Wallaby Greg Martin has urged rookie Reds coach Brad Thorn to bury the hatchet and give discarded playmaker Quade Cooper a chance in 2019 for the sake of Queensland rugby.
In an extraordinary statement by a first-year coach, one of Thorn's first moves at the Reds was to tell Cooper he wasn't required at the club and should look for opportunities elsewhere.
This despite the 70-Test Wallaby being contracted with the Reds until 2019 on a deal believed to be worth $600,000 per season and Cooper being the man who orchestrated the club's maiden Super Rugby title win in 2011 - against Thorn's Crusaders.
The Reds finished the season with six wins - their best result since 2013 - with journeyman Jono Lance and youngster Hamish Stewart sharing the playmaking duties.
Despite their rise on the standings, the Reds still finished last of the four Australian teams.
Now with Lance on his way to re-join Worcester in the English Premiership, Thorn will seemingly will place his trust in Stewart, who on Thursday was named at fly-half in Michael Cheika's Wallabies side to take on a Super Rugby selection side ahead of the opening Bledisloe Cup Test on August 18.
But Martin believes the Reds will struggle to return to finals footy with the now 20-year-old Stewart, in his second full season, running the show.
"I'd rather someone else there," Martin told the Fox Rugby Podcast.
"I don't think Hamish Stewart really measured up this year. He didn't get any better in terms of actually taking control of it.
"He's solid, but he's not brilliant. You need a brilliant player (at fly-half) to finish in the top eight in Super Rugby and that's probably the biggest worry.
"The worst thing is they've had Quade sitting on the sidelines dazzling them (in Queensland club rugby), which if you're any good is easy-ish to do, but I'd love to see him back there."
Meanwhile, Waratahs assistant coach Simon Cron also offered some interesting insight into Stewart, who he worked with last year as coach of Australia's under-20s at the World Cup.
Cron said the youngster was a good prospect but believed he'd benefit from working underneath a seasoned playmaker.
"Hamish Stewart, I had him at under 20s and he's a talented individual, but he's young," Cron said on the Fox Rugby Podcast.
"I think it takes time for you to become a real good game manager and at first-five, especially at Super Rugby.
"On the other side of that coin, the way the Reds attacked this year, it was a little predictable this year in the way that they tried to punch holes through you and when a team tries to punch holes in you, you don't have to think too much.
"And if you don't need to think too much, you can get line speed and just keep hitting all day, even if they've got the ball for 80 minutes.
"For Hamish that creates a challenge for him as a game manager because if your attacking shape doesn't have a whole lot around it, then Hamish is not going to look that good.
"Your best 10s look great when there's shape around them and they've got options, then there's people running holes, there's bodies in motion.
"You've got some amazing, powerful individual athletes that are phenomenal (at the Reds) and they'll be better again next year.
"But I think you've got to have a couple of guys who can fill those positions and put pressure on each other.
"Hamish is definitely one for the future and will continue to get better, but it would have been good for him to have someone like Quade.
"I don't know Quade personally, so I don't know what his cultural side of things is around the squad and obviously it doesn't fit in at the moment - but if you had someone like Bernard Foley with your Hamish Stewart underneath him like they have at the Wallabies, that's an ideal scenario."
Banished from the Reds, Cooper has been enjoying himself away from the spotlight and thrown himself into duties at his club side, Souths, who have benefited from being able to use his name to pull in healthy crowds.
He will wear the No 10 jersey on Saturday as Souths come up against Easts at Ballymore for a place in the preliminary final.
"Every place he goes the bar takings are up, food takings are up, he's been dragging 2000 extra people to every club game," Martin said.
"I drove past Souths last Saturday and they played Uni - last club game before the finals - and they had a sign 'Quade playing here today', so they've been unashamedly using him to market."
After striving to lead Souths to a Brisbane club rugby title, Cooper may get more opportunities to push his case in the National Rugby Championship. He has been named in Brisbane City's squad.
"Let's say, if he goes all right in the NRC and proves he's still top shelf, why wouldn't Thorny just go, hold him up as an example and go 'yes he had problems, but he's overcome that'," Martin said.
"I know defence is one of the big ones (why Thorn overlooked Cooper).
"Thorny can't cop it, telling everyone that they must tackle.
"But crikey the Reds weren't great in defence this year either. That's where you've got to be, the Crusaders showed you that.
"If Quade can show that he's changed, surely you go 'well here comes Quade. He's back in the squad, he's with us.'
"If you're going to pay him, play him."
On top of Cooper's questionable defence, Martin added that the other factor that influenced Thorn's decision was the mercurial playmaker's attitude.
"The stories in the last few years - when Thorny came in in 2015, that's when Quade, Slips (James Slipper) was captain that year, the coaches would lay down the law. (Former coach) Richard Graham would say 'We're going this, this and this', and as soon as they'd walk away Quade would recalibrate the game plan, change everything," Martin said.
"So I think that got through and Thorny said, 'Well, that's unacceptable. I'm not going to cop any of that.'
"First year he made a standard. I just hope - I know what a staunch individual Thorny is - but I just hope he says 'well, people can change'.
"And they do, of course they can. Even at the age of 30, surely.
"But they're the two things that I know that are stopping him from coming back.
"Maybe, Thorny needs a change of mind and go 'I can't be so hard line on him'.
While Thorn appears to have moved on from Cooper, the experienced Test playmaker has garnered interest from other Australian clubs.
Brumbies coach Dan McKellar told the Fox Rugby Podcast last month that he had some "informal talks" with Cooper but said negotiations hadn't progressed.
The Rebels, too, were interested in Cooper before signing Matt Toomua this week.
But any serious contemplation of leaving the Reds is believed to have been halted by Cooper's management, and Martin added that the No.1 priority should be to get the playmaker back on the pitch at a professional level.
"I'm just looking at it as one of the greatest wastes," Martin said.
"I reckon he should get a new manager because of it.
"If you're 30 years of age, you're running out of games in your life, you're running out of big games.
"What's the use of running out for Souths playing Sunnybank?
"I know that it's important for some people but it shouldn't be important if you've got that much ability.
"It's wasted talent."