Queensland Reds coach Ewen McKenzie is expecting flyhalf Quade Cooper to return to action before the halfway mark of the 2012 Super Rugby season, after successfully undergoing surgery on his injured knee in Brisbane on Thursday.
McKenzie said staff would be targeting the Round Seven clash on April 6 against the Brumbies as the return date for Cooper, meaning the star playmaker would only miss the opening six games during the 18 round competition and just two of the eight regular season home fixtures at Suncorp Stadium.
Cooper has been discharged from hospital and will commence rehabilitation on his knee immediately after surgery on his torn anterior cruciate ligament, sustained during the Wallabies' World Cup third-place play-off win over Wales.
"Quade's operation went smoothly with surgery results confirming the circumstances of his injury are typical to what you normally expect from a torn ACL," McKenzie said.
"We're confident he'll return in the quickest time possible and hopefully in time for the Brumbies in early April.
"There's no doubting Quade's professional approach to the game and he will work tirelessly with our medical staff to ensure he is back on the field sooner rather than later. That's just the type of person he is."
McKenzie admits it will be an adjustment to see someone other than Cooper wearing the No.10 jersey for Queensland, with the talented playmaker's mortgage as Queensland's starting flyhalf stretching across 31 consecutive games – and 52 of 53 matches since March 15, 2008.
The 31-game streak coincides with McKenzie joining the Reds in 2010 with Cooper playing in every match the past two seasons.
During this time Cooper has accumulated a combined 399 points in 18 matches during 2011 (228 points) and 13 games in 2010 (171 points) – an average of just under 13 points per game.
McKenzie said he would trial up to six potential candidates in the position during the pre-season, which commences on Monday 7 November, ahead of the Reds Super Rugby season opener against the NSW Waratahs in Sydney on February 25.
"Recruitment and retention has been priority number one since I joined the Reds and we've developed a roster that can not only survive the loss of Quade, but thrive in his absence," he said.
"We used 37 players on our way to winning the Super Rugby competition last year and that collective effort is again going to be the focus of our success. The whole group needs to step up.
"It's disappointing to lose Quade but we have a number of capable players who can step in and excel in his absence. Within our contracted squad Mike Harris, Jono Lance, Ben Lucas and Ben Tapuai all have experience at the position, while Dallan Murphy and Ulupano Seuteni in our extended playing squad are also young and exciting prospects at the playmaking position.
"I don't have any preconceived ideas at this stage on who will be selected. It's up to those individuals to now impress in the opportunities they will be given."
Pre-season training for the Reds will continue through to December 22 before the entire squad, Wallabies included, return from their Christmas break for training on January 9.
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