International Rugby
Kiwi Quade ready for the green and gold
September 24, 2008
Quade Cooper of the Reds celebrates scoring a try during the round 13 Super 14 match between the Queensland Reds and the Crusaders at Suncorp Stadium on May 10, 2008 in Brisbane, Australia.
Cooper caught the eye for the Reds in this year's Super 14 ©
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As Quade Cooper describes it, he was born wearing rugby boots.

He played his first game at age three in Tokoroa in heartland Waikato, and lived across the road from future All Black Richard Kahui who became his childhood idol. One of his coaches was the father of former Waikato and Ireland halfback Isaac Boss. In short, Cooper was rugby-mad for the All Blacks, from the start.

Little wonder that his mind went a bit haywire when Robbie Deans suddenly called on Sunday night, confirming him in the Wallabies' 34-man squad to face the All Blacks in Hong Kong, then tour Italy, England, France and Wales.

It was surely a prank, as Cooper and some mates prepared for a catch-up dinner in Brisbane.

"I missed a call, then I got a text saying 'please call back, it's Robbie'. I really freaked out, I was sitting with some mates and asked them 'do you know this number', I thought it was just a joke," Cooper told NZPA.

"They were saying 'call him back, call him back', and I said 'nah I can't, I'm too nervous'. Eventually I ran outside and called him and had a bit of a shy 'hi, it's, um, Quade Cooper, is this the right number?

"He said, 'yeah mate it's Robbie Deans...', I just freaked out and said 'no way, you're joking'."

A fellow Kiwi Tasman-crosser, Dingo Deans spoke a bit of Ocker with Queensland Quade, and all was fair dinkum.

Time to break the news to his parents, three sisters and two brothers, and turn their Sunday night in Brisbane on its head. They'd only just got used to him wearing a Reds jersey instead of Waikato. And don't forget Nana in Kaikohe, in the far north.

"I was pretty amazed, so I got straight on the phone to my Mum and they all just went berserk, then the next call to my grandma back home," Cooper said.

"She's called me every day since, she's just over the moon and she can't believe it. "Cooper's dinner turned into a celebration, but the shock took time to wear off. He had no hesitation in describing it as the best day of his life.

"No one knew how to act and we were all saying 'did that really happen?'. We went out and had a good feed then played some pokies, but all my luck was used up that day. My mates all got up a few hundred and I lost a bit."

Two days on, and Cooper's dream became reality as he and fellow new caps James O'Connor, Sekope Kepu and David Pocock were paraded for the media in Sydney.

It wasn't that long ago, in 2003, when 15-year-old Cooper and his mum Ruhia packed up and shifted from Tokoroa's Forest View High School to Brisbane, a move he describes as the best he ever made.

He'd played in all the age-group rugby and league sides in Waikato, and quickly made his mark in Brisbane. He toured Britain as a five-eighth or fullback with the Australian Schoolboys in 2005, alongside now-Wallabies teammates Pocock and Lachie Turner, and forced his way into the Reds' Super 14 side as a teenager.

"New Zealand's home, it's where I was brought up and I've got a lot of family and friends still there. I still love New Zealand but I've been living in Australia for nearly six years and I love it, and I'm really proud to be a Wallaby."

It hasn't been all plain sailing, notably That Game against the Chiefs last year when he dropped every ball that came his way, and became a YouTube highlights package.

But this year, Reds coach Phil Mooney hailed Cooper's increased mental toughness and pronounced him ready for the next level. The fancy footwork and slick passing formed a more consistent package in season 2008.

"When we played the Bulls we really ground them out and ran away with the game, the same against the Force, then ending the season against the Crusaders, they're the benchmark for any team and we were ahead against them for most of the game. I really felt that I'd matured from last season," Cooper said.

He thought he might be a few years away from a Wallabies tour, but he'll take it. With Matt Giteau and Berrick Barnes an established five-eighths combination he may have to wait for a test debut, but Cooper's prepared to be patient -- since it's all happened in a rush so far and he's only 20.

"It's an opportunity. We have the chance to further our rugby abilities and get better, learn a lot from guys like George Smith, Lote Tuqiri, Matt Giteau, some of the best players in the world.

"I just want to take it all into my season next year. If I get a run it'll be unbelievable."

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