Quade Cooper has impressed in his long-awaited return for the Reds.
Quade Cooper has impressed in his long-awaited return for the Reds. DAVE HUNT

Cooper performance gives Reds hope

RUGBY UNION: Quade Cooper's first outing in a Reds jersey in 20 months has ignited hopes that the Reds can transform from flops to finals contenders in one season.

Pre-season trials are notoriously unreliable as a guide to Super Rugby results but the heart and simplified slickness to big moments at Ballymore on Tuesday night was highly encouraging.

Flyhalf Cooper's adroit passing featured in the three tries the Reds produced in the 25-13 jump they enjoyed over the Melbourne Rebels during his 64 minutes on the field.

"Quade is just a general. It's like having a coach on the field,” standout fullback Karmichael Hunt said after two interplays with Cooper produced tries.

Cooper spilt a high kick but that precious ability to trigger try opportunities was lapped up 1700 diehard fans who clapped approval at the 32-13 full-time score.

They had turned up to judge for themselves whether talk of a Reds revival was more than just hot air.

There is substance. Best of all, it wasn't just Cooper who caught the eye. He had henchmen putting their hands up everywhere.

Hunt looks a new man with his sharp footwork and repeat efforts, winger Eto Nabuli played at his full 110kg not as the invisible man and inside centre Duncan Paia'aua was an excellent second playmaker with the width he put on plays with his passing.

Young headbanded flanker Adam Korczyk made the impact coach Nick Stiles had hoped and he jumped ahead in the backrow pecking order because starting No. 8 Leroy Houston coughed up two balls directly from kick-offs.

Replacement back-rower Scott Higginbotham ran off in the direction of Fortitude Valley but it was only as far as the tryline in an anxiety-relieving return after his recent police incident.

"Karmichael keeps getting better, I liked the balance with that extra ball-distributor (Paia'aua) and the nerves in the dressing-room before the kick-off were not those of a trial but of a team which really wanted to aim up,” Stiles said.

The new chemistry to the Reds was tangible and it will convert to a 20,000-plus crowd for the real thing when they open Super Rugby against the Durban-based Sharks at Suncorp Stadium on Friday week.

Stiles has stripped the clutter of elaborate set moves from the Reds backline and the instinct to the opening try was simple and telling.

A Cooper inside ball to Hunt produced another in-ball to charging Rob Simmons for the try after a wave of build-up.

Cooper also made a fine covering tackle on Rebels No.10 Jackson Garden-Bachop to get rolling in red for the first time since June, 2015.

Inside centre Paia'aua made a rivetting case to be a second ball-player in the opening round because one backhanded flip pass to Nabuli was all class to go with two well-timed try-making passes.

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