Quade Cooper Just Successfully Made a Babyface Turn

Quade Cooper
Photo Credit: Getty Images/Cover Art/Xtremeflyers

Quade Cooper has done it; after 135 Super Rugby games, 70 tests, and 4 years away from the Wallabies, he just executed a Babyface turn for the ages. For those of you who are professional wrestling fans, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. For those that aren’t, here’s a quick lesson.

Even those of you who have no interest in professional wrestling will have heard of the WWE. In the WWE (and every independent wrestling league around the world), there are two types of characters ‘Babyfaces’ or ‘Faces” and ‘Heels’. Faces are the heroes. They’re the good guys; they play by the rules, and the fans revere them. Heels are the bad guys. They don’t care what they have to do or who they upset in their quest for a championship belt, including employing some less than savoury tactics from time to time. And, the fans love to hate them.

Rarely do wrestlers spend their entire careers as a Heel or a Face. They usually shift or ‘turn’ one way or the other as a storyline evolves. Often it’s the crowd’s reaction to the character that ultimately dictates a wrestlers turn. All of the most famous wrestlers have spent time as a Face, and a Heel Dwayne Johnson actually became “The Rock” during a stint as a Heel. Hulk Hogan, Steve Austin and John Cena all had stints as both.

In Rugby, we have the same thing. You can call them Heels and Faces or Heroes and Villains. But we have them. Johnny Wilkinson, Dan Carter, Matt Giteau, Tana Umaga and John Eales are examples of Faces. Bakkies Botha, Owen Finegan, Schalk Burger, Josh Kronfeld and Owen Farrell would be cast as Heels. Richie McCaw was probably both, depending on who you barrack for.

Quade Cooper has spent his entire 15-year career as a Heel. The Rugby Heels I mentioned above seemed to revel in it; they enjoy/ed being the villain and wear/wore that as a badge of honour.

Quade is different. I don’t believe he ever wanted to be a Heel; he’s played the part to the best of his abilities, but I think it’s always bothered him that he wasn’t more beloved. I think deep down he’s always wanted to be a Face.

I’m not saying he didn’t demonstrate some Heel traits. There was the now-infamous knee to Richie McCaw’s head, an alleged burglary back in 2009, his Twitter rant about the Wallabies “toxic environment” under former coach Robbie Deans, And his highly publicised exile by Brad Thorn from the Reds. All of these are classic Heel storylines. Any one of these would be enough to the crowd against a character.

Quade was thrust into the limelight at a very young age. A precocious talent who made his debut for the Reds at just 18 years old, then two years later his Wallabies debut.

After a Super Rugby Championship at just 23 years old, Robbie Deans placed the hopes of a Rugby nation on him at the 2011 World Cup. Deans had picked him at the expense of Matt Giteau. At the time, Giteau had 92 tests. He was the Wallabies Face and a perceived shoo-in to wear the 10 jersey for the Wallabies at the World Cup. It was a lot of pressure to put on such a young man so early into his career. And inadvertently turned many fans against him before the World Cup had even started.

Granted, he was inconsistent at that tournament. But you have to remember at that point; he was only 22 starts (from 28 tests) into his career. Ultimately he tore his ACL in the Wallabies 3rd place playoff and would spend 6 months on the sideline.

After the 2011 World Cup. The media placed much of the blame for the Wallabies underperforming on Quade. And I believe he was desperate to right the ship when he returned to the Wallabies in 2012. Over his next 35 test matches before being axed in 2017. The Wallabies would win just 18 games. It felt at times that the harder Cooper tried, the more inconsistent he became, and more people turned on him, and more pressure continued to build. Culminating in his axing from the Wallabies in 2017 and the Reds in 2018.

Even though Quade hasn’t always been a saint, and I think he’d be the first to admit he’s made some bad decisions. He has demonstrated traits that are often associated with faces. There were plenty of opportunities for him to turn his back on the Wallabies. He turned down an $850,000 offer from the Parramatta Eels. Even when Brad Thorn exiled him, he endeavoured to ply his trade in club rugby and the NRC to work his way back into Super Rugby and the Wallabies setup. He’s showed an incredible amount of loyalty to a game and a fanbase that may not have always done the right thing by him.

Like all good redemption storylines, his transformation happened away from the game. He spoke about spending time with Sonny Bill Williams, who also made some questionable decisions early in his career. Learning from Sonny what it takes to be a better man. But there’s one comment he made in his pre-game interview that has stuck with me. He said, “I have found happiness away from this (Rugby)”. Then reiterated in his post-game interview by stating, “This is just a small part of our life. An important part, but it’s still a small part…’

Quade appears to have done what many people fail to do. He has found purpose and happiness outside of his occupation. And, you can see that in the way he played on Sunday. His performance certainly wasn’t perfect. But, he put on a masterclass in less is more. And provided calmness and clarity to a backline that has lacked direction this season. And, with the game on the line, he stated, “I got this”, stepped up and hit the game-winner with absolute zen.

The new Quade is personified in this photo; even after stroking the game-winner, he took time to centre himself with all the chaos happening around him.

What we witnessed on Sunday was a changed Quade Cooper. Quade got his Babyface turn in his 71st test match in the 15th year of his professional Rugby career. His metamorphosis into a Face could be the catalyst that helps tip the scale in the Wallabies favour. Could Quade Cooper ‘the Face’ help bring the Wallabies a World Cup title in 2023? I hope we get to find out.

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