Rugby-Returning Cooper pushing for place in Wallabies' Bledisloe line-up

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Rugby Union - Australia Wallabies vs Barbarians - Sydney Football Stadium, Sydney, Australia

(Reuters) - Quade Cooper is pushing for inclusion in Australia's line-up for the opening Bledisloe Cup meeting with New Zealand at Eden Park on Saturday despite his status as a surprise call-up last week.

Reece Hodge, the flyhalf's former Melbourne Rebels teammate, revealed Cooper has impressed during the Wallabies' preparations as the Australians attempt to beat the All Blacks at their Auckland stronghold for the first time since 1986.

Cooper was an unexpected inclusion when he was called up by coach Dave Rennie and Hodge believes the ex-Queensland Reds man could be involved at the weekend.

"He's been pushing as hard for selection as everyone else," said Hodge. "He's here to mentor, but that's not to say he's not here to push for a slot for selection whether that's in the starting team or on the bench.

"To echo Dave's comments last week, he's as sharp as I saw him in 2017 and 2018-2019.

"He's done a lot of work away from the field to get his body right and I know his knee's feeling the best it has in quite a few years, so he's sharp and he'll be pushing for selection this weekend."

Cooper played the last of his 70 tests for Australia in 2017 and his involvement in the squad had been seen primarily as a move by Rennie to help support inexperienced 21-year-old Noah Lolesio following an injury to James O'Connor.

"He's had his detractors over the years, but the one thing you can't take away from Quade is that he's got a great rugby brain," said Hodge.

"I'm still learning off him, and he's not shy in terms of coming up to you during a session and offering advice and the way he sees the game.

"So I think even in the space of a couple of weeks his experience has been invaluable in terms of helping this squad out.

"Hopefully, we see the fruits of that over the next few weeks and into the future as well as our younger guys start to get more experience and chances to put that kind of stuff into practice in tests throughout the year."

(Reporting by Michael Church in Hong Kong, Editing by Robert Birsel)

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