Mystery remains over Quade Cooper's immediate future following a
television report the controversial Wallabies playmaker is quitting
rugby to take up boxing.
News broke on the Nine Network last night that Cooper would be lost to the code but Australian and Queensland rugby officials aren't sure whether the report was accurate or a tactic to garner a better top-up contract from the Australian Rugby Union.
Neither the ARU nor QRU had been informed by Cooper or his agent, Khoder Nasser, that he intended tearing up his three-year Super Rugby deal with the Reds which would take him through to the 2015 World Cup.
Nasser would not return calls but did send a text message to say the 38-Test five-eighth would hold a press conference in Brisbane early next week.
Despite Cooper being among the most talented and exciting players in the game, the ARU has offered him a low-grade incentive-based deal for 2013.
The offer has been tabled in the past fortnight, since the 24-year-old was slugged with a $40,000 fine for his criticism of the Wallabies, saying in September the national team housed a "toxic environment".
He'd originally failed to sign off on a more significant ARU deal that was first put to him in July after he re-signed with the Reds.
Although Cooper is close friends with another Nasser stablemate in Sonny Bill Williams, he has never spoken seriously about a desire to box before.
He has on occasion used the sport in rehabilitation from injury.
Last night's bombshell, which came hours after Cooper tweeted a picture of himself and former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson, was met by surprise from both the QRU and ARU.
"The ARU has had no communication with Quade Cooper or his management," an ARU spokesman said.
"Any question regarding Quade Cooper's future should be directed to Quade's management."
The timing of the report is also intriguing as it comes almost 48 hours after the Wallabies shored up coach Robbie Deans's position for next year with a 20-14 win over England at Twickenham.
Wallabies captain Nathan Sharpe said Cooper's actions
didn't impact upon the team.
"Every player goes through their own contract negotiations in different ways and obviously Quade's is pretty public," Sharpe said in Florence.
"In terms of the impact on the team, we've had a really good internal focus on how we deal with that ...
"I think we saw with the (`toxic environment') comments that were made while we were in South Africa, we bounced back from that well and focused really well. We had a good performance in Argentina and then against New Zealand in Brisbane, so I'm not concerned about that."
In spite of a rocky 2012, QRU boss Jim Carmichael and Reds coach Ewen McKenzie have consistently stated their confidence that the star playmaker would remain at Ballymore in 2013.
They also had had no contact with Cooper on Monday and Queensland chairman Rod McCall was calling ARU chairman Michael Hawker, currently in London with the Wallabies, for clarity over the contract negotiations.
Carmichael admitted his frustrations at the latest twist and did attempt to control the damage if Cooper walked out on the code.
"I still genuinely believe he's an important asset to the game moving forward but it's up to Quade and the ARU where they're happy to move on," he said. "It's frustrating that's for sure.
"(However) the public genuinely believes in the Reds as a team and as an organisation.
"Whatever happens with any player I think we're an organisation who is equipped to deal with it."
If Cooper wanted to continue his rugby career overseas he would have to wait until next August to gain a high-paying contract in Europe or Japan but would not be eligible for Test football.