TWO weeks shy of his 29th birthday, James Slipper should be coming into the prime of his career as a Test prop.
But after twice testing positive for cocaine his career is now at a crossroads.
The Queensland stalwart has been fined $ 27,500 and banned for two months which will see him miss the rest of the Super Rugby season — assuming the 4-7 Reds miss the finals.
But with his contract up at season’s end and a long history of injuries, Reds coach Brad Thorn has a big decision to make.
Slipper’s double slip in judgment will test Thorn’s hard-line stance.
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The first year Super Rugby coach has shown he’s not afraid of making the tough decisions.
He’s brutally shunned Quade Cooper, the club’s only premiership playmaker, despite having two years left to run on his contract.
Dual international Karmichael Hunt hasn’t been allowed near the team either after his own drug related indiscretions at the end of 2017.
All the while Cooper and Hunt have been going about their daily business and collecting their lucrative pay cheques.
Cooper’s been playing club rugby for Souths, while Hunt has hardly been sighted apart from popping up at the gym.
The harsh reality is that by taking a hard line stance on Cooper and Hunt, Thorn has set a precedent and has no option but to also wave goodbye to Slipper, despite the difficulties he has been facing away from the game.
Any other decision would be hypocritical.
It would open up a can of worms as to why Slipper was spared and the other two high profile players were pushed away.
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The great shame is that Slipper had done a lot of hard work in 2018.
After years of playing hurt and underweight, Slipper — a former Reds and Wallabies captain — was fit and firing.
The look on his face in March after leading the Reds to a win over the Jaguares in Buenos Aires told a story of great satisfaction.
Slipper was the only remaining player who had ridden all the great highs and lows with the Reds over the past decade.
Others like Cooper, Scott Higginbotham and Jono Lance had left and come back but Slipper — who sadly missed the 2011 Super Rugby final triumph with injury — had been as solid as a rock with his unwavering commitment to the Reds.
He, along with George Smith and Higginbotham, was a man tasked with the responsibilities of nurturing the next generation through.
Already the likes of tight-head prop Taniela Tupou and hooker Brandon Paenga-Amosa have come on in leaps and bounds in 2018 and Slipper has played a significant part in that.
Unfortunately, after the latest setback to hit Ballymore he now risks being cast off into obscurity.
The priority is now clearly Slipper’s mental health after he revealed his struggles with depression.
He is unlikely to feature for the Wallabies this season after not being invited to a recent national camp and his fate now appears to rest largely in Thorn’s hands.
Queensland Rugby Union chairman Jeff Miller vowed to support Slipper when he addressed media on Thursday and Thorn must now decide whether he can fit into his Reds revolution going forward.