Deans is confident the Reds, who start their defence against arch rival NSW in Sydney on Saturday, can handle being hunted by the opposition and will feature again at finals time.

They will have to negotiate the first part of their campaign without five-eighth Cooper, who suffered a serious knee injury in the World Cup bronze medal match and has only just resumed running.

“They’ve got a playing group there that is more than able to cover for his (Cooper’s) absence,” Deans told reporters on Tuesday.

“They will tweak the way they approach their work, but that will also make them more dangerous because they will develop different approaches that in time will make them less predictable.

“It’s inevitable that more of the same probably wouldn’t have cut it, it’s the nature of the industry.

“They will have a target on their back this year, there’s no doubt about that, but I’m also very confident they will be up for that.

“I was up there yesterday (Monday) and they haven’t stood still. They are continuing to raise the bar in terms of the way they prepare.”

Deans said he thought Cooper would probably resume playing before the four June inbound Tests, but didn’t expect him to be ready for those games against Scotland and Wales.

He was however encouraged by Cooper’s attitude and determination following the adversity of a traumatic World Cup campaign during which he was booed by New Zealanders, performed well below his best and then got injured.

“He’s in good spirits. He’s of no doubt that the adversity he has been through will make him stronger,” Deans said.

“He’s very intent that he comes back better for the experience.

“He’s only just started running again, so there’s a lot of hurdles he’s got to clear without a setback but the early indications are very good.”

Deans was impressed by the conditioning and work ethic of all the Australian Super franchises, describing it as unprecedented.

He believes the Waratahs, widely regarded as the other main Australian Super contenders, are looking better than last year.

“They are missing a couple of players but they’ve got depth as have the Reds and depth historically has been important and when you look at the format this year it’s going to be a key component,” Deans said.

He believed the other three Australian Super franchises – Western Force, Brumbies and Melbourne Rebels, all of whom finished in the lower part of the ladder last year, were capable of giving the finals a nudge this season.

He tipped the Crusaders and Blues to spearhead the New Zealand challenge and the Stormers and Sharks to do likewise for South Africa.