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Greg Growden
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After more than 30 years with The Sydney Morning Herald and Fairfax Media in Australia, Greg Growden now writes exclusively online for ESPNscrum. Never afraid to step on toes, you can expect plenty of compelling insight from one of Australia's most renowned rugby writers.
Ruck'n Maul
Cooper and O'Connor sniff out new options
Greg Growden
April 5, 2013
The Reds' Quade Cooper runs the ball against the Bulls, Queensland Reds v Bulls, Super Rugby, Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane, March 23, 2012
Quade Cooper is testing the market again as he is concerned about a certain aspect of his ARU deal © Getty Images
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As James O'Connor continues to gaze towards the Brumbies, fellow "amigo" Quade Cooper is also checking his options. After last year's dummy spit about Australian rugby, Cooper was supposedly happy to still be a Queensland Reds player. However, our ever-reliable Reds sources are adamant Cooper, concerned about a certain aspect of his Australian deal, has entered into "second-phase discussions" with the Japanese club team, Panasonic, for which his good friend Sonny Bill Williams appeared. Williams also approached the Sydney Roosters NRL club about Cooper, but they are not interested - believing he is not worth the asking price.

As for O'Connor, despite his public comments that he has no reason to leave the Rebels, there have definitely been discussions revolving around him joining the Brumbies next season. It now appears the Australian Rugby Union has to be consulted before the move to Canberra is made. This has something to do with a mysterious third-party deal in Melbourne, which "helped O'Connor dull the pain of leaving the Western Force" a few years ago. The Brumbies are certain to find out whether there is any truth to this third party deal or not. There have even been mutterings about O'Connor and Cooper heading as a pair to France.

Blood in the water at Rebels

The Rebels are trying to get themselves back on track after their disastrous tour of South Africa, which involved the brawl involving Kurtley Beale, Cooper Vuna and Gareth Delve. But there remains a great deal of bad blood even as players are arguing they must focus on the rest of the season. Head coach Damien Hill is under enormous pressure, and is struggling to get "expressions of support" from those above him. Players are hearing the hunt for a new coach is now on, but prospective appointments may depend on whether outside help - even going as high as the ARU - is required to improve the club's finances. Coaching candidates include Scott Johnson, Brian Smith and even Tim Lane, but the former Wallabies assistant coach is instead heading to France. One Rebels official is pushing a well-known Australian rugby powerbroker to take over as the chief executive officer and a 1980s Wallabies back to be the new head coach. Even a well-known team manager looking for a gig is sniffing around the Rebels, offering to "spill the beans" on another province.

Big Brother expanding reach

The paranoid "big brother" attitude of some ARU officials continues, as does their relentless purge to identify enemies. Provinces have been alerted that any negativity towards the ARU within their organisations has to be reported back to head office. Not surprisingly, those within the Australian provinces who have an ounce of self-respect are furious about this crazy directive. And expect massive budget cuts at the ARU, with one major appointment now expected to be filled in-house. Also, Queensland Reds are all a flutter by a push for staff having confidentiality clauses inserted into employment contracts. This has led to resignation threats and tears flowing.

Deans tapping up Sheens?

Sighted lunching this week: Wallabies coach Robbie Deans and his Kangaroos counterpart, Tim Sheens. There's a strong whisper that Sheens will be sighted at Wallabies training sessions this year, helping them out with some defensive drills. After all, former Sydney Swans coach Paul Roos was at Wallabies sessions last season, trying to improve the players' kicking and catching skills. Whether that succeeded is open to debate.

Sydney shenanigans

Sydney's Shute Shield premiership-grade competition hasn't even started, but already there are fun and games. Gordon coach John Briggs was told during a trial match last weekend that his services were no longer required. The Shute Shield scene is also a flutter with persistent rumours that it will soon be cut back to an eight-team Sydney competition, with the west again under threat. Madness.

Discord and disharmony

Who is the Australian provincial chief executive so offside with his players that he was told exactly where to go when he tried recently to join several of them at a lunchtime table? Something with seafood connotations was mentioned! And who is the Australian provincial coach who refused to have a drink with a rival because: "Mate, you plotted my exit."

Questions of the week

Is Western Force hooker Nathan Charles in the Waratahs sights? And is a Wallabies player really sighted on CCTV footage with a team-mate in the ladies bathroom at a prominent hotel?

RIP Rod Allen

I was proud to have known Rod for many years, and delighted we were friends. He was the best sports editor I worked with at the action-packed Sydney Sun-Herald newspaper- a master of keeping his cool at deadline time. A few hours before his tragic death last weekend, we talked about everything newspapers, the Waratahs (with whom he worked for a short period), soccer, AFL, rugby league, and the importance of achieving a balance in life. He is a devastating loss.

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