Quade Cooper sees Reds of old in 2017 version
RUGBY UNION: Returning Reds playmaker Quade Cooper says there are similarities between this year's star-studded squad and the champion Queensland team of 2011.
Cooper's return from Toulon, in addition to the recruitment of Stephen Moore, George Smith, Scott Higginbotham and Leroy Houston, means expectation - both internally and externally - is sky-high in Brisbane as the Reds prepare for Friday's season opener at home to the Sharks.
After finishing second last in 2009, Cooper said it was the coaching appointment of Ewen McKenzie for the 2010 season that turned around the Reds' fortunes and set the wheels in motion for their drought-breaking title a year later.
With Cooper and Will Genia pulling the strings behind a hungry forward pack, the Reds immediately moved up the standings in 2010 and finished fifth.
And while the maiden title couldn't have happened without a strong roster, Cooper said it was a change in attitude that proved to be the game changer at the club.
"That attitude was definitely at the forefront of 2011, but that stemmed from 2010," Cooper told foxsports.com.au.
"We just missed out on the finals, I think we finished in fifth place, but after coming (second) last in 2009, moving into 2010 it was a massive attitude change.
"Obviously bringing in a new coach in Ewen McKenzie in that time, we put a lot of work and effort into creating a good culture and I think that that's the biggest similarity in terms of now and then."
And after three years languishing towards the bottom of the Super Rugby ladder, the Reds are once again hopeful of success in 2017.
Not only is there a new coach guiding the ship in Nick Stiles, but 521 caps of experience have been brought back to the Reds in Cooper, Moore, Smith, Higginbotham and Houston.
But just as exciting as the big name recruitment is an apparent change in mindset at the club.
"The first thing I noticed when I came back and joined the boys in pre-season was that in prior times, people were happy to just put on the training kit and be a part of the team," Cooper said.
"Whereas now you've got guys who put on the training kit and, yeah you're happy to be a part of the team, but it's all about what's next, what's now," Cooper said.
"The hard work has just begun, and I think that the attitude and work ethic in the team is what's going to turn this club around and put us in a good place moving into the start of the season."
There are already on-field signs that this is more than just hopeful chatter.
The Reds were the most impressive Australian team at the Brisbane Tens, narrowly losing to the eventual champion Chiefs, in the quarter-finals before smashing the Rebels 32-13 in their only trial game.
"It was difficult to be back out there on the field," Cooper said.
"You're always going pull up a bit sore after any type of game.
"But we got what we wanted out of the game.
"I was able to stay out there, stay fit and healthy and obviously get the win.
"Even though it was a trial match (it was) our first win, a first outing which we can build on."
It's no surprise that the promising signs come after a pre-season spent with dual-code legend Brad Thorn - now a fulltime coach at the club.
"He's (Thorn) just been basically been putting that hard edge on the boys," Cooper said.
"I think his style of play, his style of training has been rubbing off on the guys through how he goes about his business.
"We laugh about it every now and again - how tough and hard he is - but it's really rubbing off on a lot of the guys.
"And that's exciting as a No 10, playing behind a forward pack that is dominant, physical and up for a hard contest.
"That's a dream for me."
The form of Karmichael Hunt that certainly have Reds fans licking their lips ahead of Friday's season opener.
After a frustrating two years due to off-field infringements and injury, code-hopper Hunt is looking extremely sharp and mature.
"In terms of Karmichael, I couldn't speak any more highly of him and the way that he's been able to learn the game over the past few years," Cooper said.
"I know when he first came in he was a little bit lost.
"But he's one of the best athletes that I've seen, and to see how he understands the game now - he's in the hot seat to have a cracking year."