Porirua, with its state houses and Jerry Collins Stadium, is a place familiar with hard knocks, and it's here, two days before one of the biggest tests of his career, that Quade Cooper is putting the finishing touches on his preparations.

The 28-year-old has had his struggles too, many of his own making, and there is no understating the importance of this match for him, the first time he has played for Australia since the World Cup pool match against Uruguay in October.

A good performance, even in a defeat, outside his old mate Will Genia, could see him stay in the No10 jersey for the Wallabies, with coach Michael Cheika talking up a potential long-term partnership with Bernard Foley, who will play at second-five at Westpac Stadium.

After returning a year early from France and his contract with Toulon, and getting over the disappointment of missing out on Australia's sevens squad for the Rio Olympics, Cooper, who played the first of his 58 tests as a 20-year-old, is on the brink of re-igniting his international career or potentially seeing it sink altogether.


With former All Blacks assistant coach Mick Byrne, now with the Wallabies, watching, Cooper goes through his goalkicking return at the place formerly known as Porirua Park and now named for the late All Blacks loose forward Collins.

From the right-hand side of the field he kicks most of them. One attempt bounces back off the right upright. Cooper walks off, smiling with Byrne, before facing the media, who are watching from the sideline.

There are no smiles now from behind his scruffy beard during his six minutes in front of the microphones.

To get to his point Cooper has had to go through what could be considered as more than his fair share of lows. The high point probably came in the months preceding the 2011 World Cup.

Cooper, in partnership with Genia, swept all before him for the Reds and Australia, and the results were a Super Rugby title and Tri-Nations triumph.

Cooper and Genia were a devastating combination, the former's quick feet, sidestep, vision, and ability to send a pass into from virtually the middle of the park to a flying wing on the sideline making him a huge threat to opposition defences.

As a result, the elusive Genia had more room in which to operate, and few matches illustrated their twin dangers than their Super Rugby final victory against the Crusaders at Suncorp Stadium.

But Cooper's strength - his impetuous, spontaneous, nature - has also been his greatest weakness. A charge into a prone Richie McCaw a year earlier in Hong Kong, plus a spray of invective as the Wallabies secured victory over their old rivals, was followed during the 2011 Tri Nations by an opportunistic knee to McCaw's head in Brisbane, and Cooper arrived in New Zealand for the World Cup that year as the so-called Public Enemy No1.

What made it worse for Cooper was how he responded - not with humility and an apology, but with defiance, an attitude that firmly turned the New Zealand public against him. Whether his approach was the result of poor advice or his nature it's hard to say, but either way he was in the spotlight, his every move scrutinized, and it didn't help his game.

The criticism, rightly or wrongly, came from nearly every quarter. Former Wallabies skipper Nick Farr-Jones called him a "boofhead", and he struggled in the semifinal against the All Blacks, who targeted him and will do so again at Westpac Stadium. Since that 20-6 semifinal defeat, Cooper has started three tests against the All Blacks at No10 and has suffered the same result every time.

Now, as he addresses the media on a cool but calm afternoon in Porirua, that old defiance is present again.

"It's just another game of rugby against the best in the world," he says. "It's something that's pretty exciting if you ask me. For me, I'm just happy to be back starting and back playing test football against the best.

"It's about the Wallabies against the All Blacks ... so I'm not getting drawn into anything personal.

"I'm not coming over here thinking I need to do anything special to beat the All Blacks. I've just had a bit of time off to reflect on the things that are important. I've been training very hard. I can't say that I'm going to be more consistent or anything like that but I know that every time I put the jumper on, I give it everything I've got and this will be no different."

Asked about the last time he played the All Blacks - the 41-13 thrashing at Eden Park in August last year - he says: "That's a long time ago. There's been so much in between it. We've gone to a World Cup final against the All Blacks, come up short there but as a team we've grown. This is a different challenge. You can't look back and draw too many parallels. It was only eight months ago that we were playing in a final against them and then last week they put 30 points on us. Anything could happen. We're going out there determined to right those wrongs and just play well."

However much Cheika says he backs Cooper, the selection of a man who didn't make the match-day 23 last weekend in Sydney has a whiff of a gamble about it. But, with his team's chances of winning back the Bledisloe Cup for the first time since 2002 suffering a huge blow in the wake of the 42-8 humiliation at ANZ Stadium, Cheika needs something different and in Cooper he has it.

A fragile-looking Wallabies, who have lost five tests in a row, need a vastly improved performance in order to claw back a little self belief as they approach the rest of the Rugby Championship, and the same could be said of Cooper, the man from Tokoroa looking to put the past behind him.