With Quade Cooper having hit the self-destruct button, it is hard not to ponder how different things might have been had he committed to New Zealand and not Australia.

Would he now be a frothing mass of resentment and bitterness had he been playing over here these last five years? Would New Zealand have destroyed his confidence the way Australia so obviously has?

He's just 24 and that could be him...off to France or off to the NRL and possibly never going to be sighted in a Wallaby jersey again.

That's an enormous waste of talent and there is no doubt he is a talent - a point which is readily and easily lost when it comes to talking about Cooper these days. There is, or at least there was, more than a touch of Carlos Spencer about Cooper. He's at his best when he's left to follow his instincts, play what he sees and probe and dart: try his tricks and not fear the consequences of trying. During Super Rugby in 2011, Cooper was sensationally good.


Remember how he could escape from any defence? Remember how he could ignite his backs and counter attack from anywhere? Remember how he had this arsenal of kicks - short ones, tricky ones, clever ones - that he could pull out at any time and change the angle of attack and pressure point on the defence? He was brilliant and the All Blacks feared him. Cooper, in tandem with Will Genia, were the new George Gregan and Stephen Larkham with the potential to be better.

But that 'Impossible to stop Cooper' has been turned into an almost 'Impossible to start Cooper'. Whether it is the influence of Wallaby coach Robbie Deans, injury or Generation Y disgruntlement - Cooper is not the player he was 18 months ago. Not even close and hasn't been close since Super Rugby finished in June last year.

The strange part is that from the outside looking in, nothing has been done to help Cooper: Deans has appeared to watch on as fascinated as the rest of us to see how hard Cooper will hit the ground. It just wouldn't have happened had Cooper played here: welfare is a huge part of the New Zealand Rugby Union set up these days. Jimmy Cowan was saved from alcoholic oblivion as was Zac Guildford. The emphasis here is as much on the person as it is the player - a realisation the two can't be treated in isolation.

Cooper would have been cuddled and loved back into form if he was contracted in New Zealand - such raw talent rarely gets wasted here. Not only that, but his natural game would have been encouraged and licensed. Instead, he's been put in a creative strait-jacket by the Wallabies, and worse, barely helped or supported as he struggles with various issues.

Yes he was daft in the way he provoked and then continued to provoke Richie McCaw throughout 2010 and last year, but there was no one defending his case from across the Tasman. Public support, private counselling and behaviour adjustment - that's the go over here - but obviously not over there.

Australia had something in Cooper and they have probably lost him now. New Zealand wouldn't have been so careless.