QUADE Cooper's Australian rugby union career appears to be over after the ARU effectively forced the star five-eighth out of the game by offering him an incentive-based contract usually reserved for rookies.
Cooper, who was hit with a record $40,000 fine for criticising the state of the game and the mood in the Wallabies camp, had a contract offer from the ARU pulled and received a revised deal from ARU chairman Michael Hawker on November 8 – a week after his code of conduct hearing.
If he was to accept the deal, Cooper would be regarded as below the top 30 players in Australia – an insult to the 23-year-old voted the country's 2011 Super Rugby player of the year and runner-up as the most popular player among fans at this year's ARU awards.
While he had agreed to a three-year deal with the Queensland Reds, that was subject to Cooper finalising a new ARU contract.
However, he feels the decision to offer him an incentive deal is further punishment for his outspoken comments on Twitter and during an appearance on Fox Sports, and is now considering other options.
After indicating an interest in playing NRL a number of times in recent years, a switch of codes is now a real possibility for Cooper if he can find a club with room in its salary cap.
Fairfax Media understands Cooper stayed in Sydney on Monday night after spending the weekend in Wollongong, where he played cricket for a side chosen by Wendell Sailor in a charity match featuring a number of St George Illawarra players.
The Dragons, whose chief executive Peter Doust indicated on Friday they were interested in Israel Folau, are one club with room under the salary cap and are on the lookout for a new half-back or five-eighth following the retirement of former skipper Ben Hornby.
Reds officials were last night maintaining they had been given no notice by Cooper that he intended to break the three-year deal he signed with the QRU in June.
Meanwhile, Wallabies back-rower Scott Higginbotham said he regretted nothing about the headbutt and knee on Richie McCaw that earned him a two-game ban last month.
Higginbotham said the suspension, his first in a four-year professional career, showed him where the line was between niggle and citation, but he would not change his trademark gritty playing style.
"I don't regret anything I did, it was just football, I suppose," he said.
Higginbotham joined the Wallabies on the morning of their redemptive Test win against England after former Reds teammate Rob Simmons earned an eight-game suspension for a lifting tackle on France flanker Yannick Nyanga, and Kane Douglas was ruled out with a knee injury.