Unpredictable, topsy-turvy, laced with equal parts brilliance and madness … the game in which Quade Cooper passed the Reds Super Rugby points scoring record could barely have been a better metaphor for his career.
Somewhere underneath the confusing blur of bodies and smouldering scoreboard that was Queensland’s 43-33 victory over the Cheetahs at Suncorp Stadium, Cooper kicked his way past Elton Flatley to become the highest scorer for the Reds in the Super Rugby era.
A seven-from-10 night with the boot saw Cooper move to 638 points, passing Flatley’s 629. Of course, he is still more than 400 points behind the great Michael Lynagh (1166), who played his rugby before the Super Rugby concept took flight.
Even so, it’s a remarkable milestone for anyone who has even taken a passing interest in Cooper’s turbulent, controversial, impulsive, successful and generally riveting career.
He arrived at Ballymore as a faux-hawked teenager that understudied for the more reliable Berrick Barnes, whose departure to the Waratahs was thought to have left the province on its knees.
Instead, it saw the emergence of Cooper, who has trod on his share of landmines but proven to be a great survivor as well as an able inspirer at the Reds, who he helped lead to Super Rugby glory in 2011.
He played his part against the Cheetahs, offering up slabs of the good with generous helpings of the bad. What other way is there?
There was the early wayward pass that was pounced on by Boom Prinsloo, who raced away to score under the posts. Then there was the audacious fling to empty space that was fielded by James Hanson, who did his impression of a short, stout Jonah Lomu to power home on the wing.
Cooper said the record was a proud moment on which to reflect as well as an incentive to keep chasing the mark set by Lynagh, the brilliant Queensland fly-half with the deadly boot.
“I couldn’t be more excited. I’ve spoken about my passion for Queensland rugby and to be etched into the history books as Super Rugby’s highest scorer, I couldn’t be more proud of that,” Cooper said.
“It’s not necessary a goal I went out there to achieve, but you look at the hard work and it makes it all worthwhile.
“There’s still Michael Lynagh miles ahead but it gives you something to aim for. If I continue to score points for the Reds, I can continue to help us move forward as a team. That’s my sole focus.”
The Reds will need to take significant steps forward as they head to Africa to meet the Sharks and Lions. After being smashed by the Waratahs, they took a bonus point win against the Cheetahs, although for long stretches it seemed like organised chaos.
Their defence has now leaked 65 points in two outings, although this time they were good enough to run in five tries of their own. Still, coach Richard Graham wasn’t going to complain.
“I’m happy with five points. The Cheetahs are a slippery side. Everything they did tonight we planned on during the week. I thought we defended well,” Graham said.
“It was edge of the seat stuff, wasn’t it? They chip-kicked a lot, they tried their hand. We’re going to Africa with two wins out of three, five points tonight, good result for us.”
The Reds showed patches of their 2011 brilliance but some of the decision making was reminiscent of the pre-McKenzie days. They would give up a shot at goal from in front, only to opt for one at a tougher angle minutes later.
Liam Gill was lost early after a head clash with Ed Quirk but he will board the plane to Africa with no ongoing concern. Beau Robinson provided some great starch as a replacement, adding to a much-improved forward effort led by Rob Simmons.
The Reds couldn’t impose their game, so ended up beating the Cheetahs at theirs. They will need to take their attack from ‘frantic’ to ‘slightly manic’ against the Sharks, although Cooper insisted they wouldn’t be tempering the adventurous streak.
“It’s not so much being conservative. It’s being better with our execution. There are times we may have to pull back a bit but we don’t want to be conservative,” Cooper said.
“That’s not the style of play the Reds brand of football is and the brand we’re trying to get better at.”