Sydney - If local media reports are to be believed, Australia flyhalf Quade Cooper's international rugby career was over on Tuesday, just four years and 38 matches after he emerged on the Test stage with a decisive try on debut.
The 24-year-old was variously described as being set for a new career in boxing or rugby league, or perhaps staying in union in the lucrative French or Japanese leagues, after turning down a new contract with the Australian Rugby Union (ARU).
A spokesman for the ARU said the reports were speculation as the governing body had heard nothing from Cooper, currently sidelined by a knee injury, or his management team about the New Zealand-born player's plans.
The ARU spokesman would not confirm the contents of the contract offer but media reports suggested it was the sort of pay-as-you-play deal that would usually be offered to those outside the top echelons of the national set-up.
Negotiations over a deal resumed late last month after Cooper was fined A$40,000 ($41,600) for describing the Wallabies camp as a “toxic environment” he felt was “destroying” him.
The fine completed a miserable 12 months for Cooper, which started when he limped out of the World Cup with a seriously damaged knee after being labelled 'public enemy number one' in the land of his birth.
In the preceding three years, however, Cooper had established himself as the top flyhalf in Australia and one of the most exciting talents in rugby.
His incisive passing, quick feet and ability to glide across the front of opposition defences before spotting a gap helped Australia move up to second in the world rankings behind the All Blacks.
Cooper scored the decisive try on his debut against Italy in Padua on the November tour of 2008 and made his first test start against England at Twickenham the following year.
In 2010, he was named Super Rugby player of the year as he helped fire the revival of the Queensland Reds with 171 points and then cemented his place as first choice Wallabies flyhalf, starting 13 tests including a win over the All Blacks.
His star continued to rise in 2011, when he helped Queensland to a first ever Super Rugby title and Australia to a first Tri-Nations title in a decade.
Not all were convinced of his talent, however, particularly in New Zealand.
He was dubbed “Carlos lite” in reference to his boyhood hero Carlos Spencer and there was much schadenfreude when Cooper had a disappointing World Cup.
He never quite got back into his stride on his return from injury this year and there was little in his game to suggest opposition defences had not figured him out by simply closing down the time and space he enjoyed on the ball.
While he struggled to regain his form on the pitch, his relationship with Wallabies coach Robbie Deans and the ARU deteriorated, culminating in his outbursts initially on Twitter and then in a TV interview.
Despite that, he appeared to have few issues with Queensland or Reds head coach Ewen McKenzie and signed a new deal to remain at the side until the end of 2015.
That deal was always contingent upon his signing a top up contract with the ARU, however.
“The frustration has been that we came to terms with Quade some time ago, back in June now, and he declared his intentions to rugby and to us for three years,” McKenzie said on Tuesday.
“He's given us his word on that topic. I think I spoke to him maybe seven or eight days ago and, as far as I was concerned, I've never felt that he was going to do anything other than play for the Reds.”
Cooper has also consistently said he would like to play alongside Sonny Bill Williams, who recently turned his back on the All Blacks to return to rugby league with the Sydney Roosters.
Williams, who combines his rugby career with boxing, and Cooper share the same manager in Khoder Nasser, who has promised a news conference on the flyhalf's future next week.
Although a boxing career seems unlikely, a move to rugby league, or even union in France or Japan, would rule out a return to the Wallabies, for the foreseeable future at least. – Reuters