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‘I’ll back the brother’: Why Sonny Bill thinks Cooper can make it to the 2023 Rugby World Cup

“When things went a bit pear-shaped a few years ago, he was the first guy to reach out to me and I spent about two [or] three months with him,” Cooper said on Stan Sport with Williams listening in. “Just living with him every day and seeing what it takes to be a good, strong man every day … I love you brother and I appreciate everything bro.”

Williams wants to set the record straight.

“He said some really nice things but I don’t like the connotation that I took him under his wing or I’m sort of saviour,” Williams said. “He was having a moment. I’ve had moments. At that time when he was struggling, I knew that I had to reach out because I knew he would do exactly the same thing and I have been in those exact same shoes.”

At the end of 2017, Cooper was told by Queensland Reds coach Brad Thorn his services were no longer required, despite him still being contracted for the following season.

In the days afterwards, Cooper was lost. He was not in a good mental headspace, prompting Williams to convince him to get the next plane to Auckland.

For the next few months in New Zealand, Cooper was no longer a rugby player. He was ‘Uncle Quadey’.

“It was as much a blessing for myself as well because I got to spend time with my brother,” Williams said. “We had a downstairs [area] with an en suite. He was pretty much part of the family. The kids were sad when he left and so was I. I missed him.”

Williams, renowned as one of the hardest trainers across both codes, put Cooper through his paces.

“When Quade was with me, we grinded every day,” Williams said. “We woke up, we trained, we ate good food, we were grateful for what we had. It wasn’t like I was sitting there saying ‘bro, you got to this’. It was just a lifestyle.

Mateship: Sonny Bill Williams and Quade Cooper in 2012.

Mateship: Sonny Bill Williams and Quade Cooper in 2012. Credit:Harrison Saragossi

“It could be a day where there would be three sessions but in order to get quality, one of the sessions needed to be early, so we had to wake up early. I’d do my prayers then we’d be on the grind. Early session, come back, have good food … then after a while it becomes a way of life. We did it for a couple of months and it was pretty full on.

“For instance, we were having eggs on toast. Some people don’t even have eggs on toast. That’s the kind of conversations we were having.”

Williams watched Cooper’s brilliant performance on Sunday night like a proud father and for once, the shoe was on the other foot.

“One of the coolest things I got from yesterday [Sunday] is that Quade knows his success was built around that team effort,” Williams said. “He couldn’t have done what he did without Samu Kerevi outside him and others. The beauty of it is those guys connect with Quade on a deeper level. Seeing those guys play so well and Quade fitting in so seamlessly was great to watch.

“It gave me that understanding of when my close ones would watch me play and play well, the satisfaction they would get.”

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Despite attempts to make it back to the Wallabies through club rugby in 2018, and then a stint at the Melbourne Rebels, Cooper was not selected by Michael Cheika, a coach he later criticised after Australia’s 2019 World Cup quarter-final exit.

During that time, did Williams feel Cooper was hard done by?

“Everyone is created with weaknesses. Don’t think every coach is perfect,” Williams said. “If you have a player of Quade’s capabilities, if you can’t get the best out of him, then I say that it’s just as much the coach’s fault as the player. The beauty about Quade is he’s gone away and he’s put his faith in his creator and he’s worked hard.

“Now we’re here and he’s been given his chance. Who would have thought?”

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