Representative Honours: Australian Under 20s 2010-11, Australian Wallabies 2012-
Senior Tour: Europe 2012; UK/Europe 2013
NSW Waratahs dynamo MICHAEL HOOPER has cemented his place as the Qantas Wallabies first-choice openside flanker over the past two seasons and was one of only six players to feature in all 15 games played by Australia in 2013.
Such was his influence to the Qantas Wallabies during the past calendar year that Hooper won the John Eales Medal in just his second year of international Rugby, receiving 297 votes from his peers, more than 100 votes ahead of his nearest rivals, Wycliff Palu on 185 votes and Israel Folau on 177.
Hooper becomes the fourth flanker to win the John Eales Medal, behind George Smith (2002 and 2008), Phil Waugh (2003) and David Pocock (2010). He was also voted Australia’s Choice Wallaby of the Year, ahead of Adam Ashley-Cooper and Israel Folau.
The accolade capped off a remarkable four seasons where Hooper has won most significant individual awards on offer, including the 2013 Australian Super Rugby Player of the Year and Castrol EDGE Strongest Performer, Qantas Wallabies Rookie of the Year in 2012, and Australian Under 20s Player of the Year in 2011.
Since debuting against Scotland in 2012, Hooper has been chosen in the starting side for 23 of his 28 Test appearances, including 14 of his 15 caps in 2013.
Last year Hooper was also the recipient of the Wallabies’ Man of Gold award on two occasions – against New Zealand in the opening Bledisloe Cup and again in Australia’s dominant four-try victory over Ireland in Dublin.
Despite only being 22-years-old Hooper has already established himself as a leader on and off the field, stepping up into the NSW Waratahs vice-captaincy role in 2014, where he also captained the side for the first time in the injury-absence of Dave Dennis against the Queensland Reds.
Hooper initially debuted off the bench during the June Tests in 2012, and was thrust into the starting role when injury rubbed out David Pocock following the opening Bledisloe Cup Test of that year.
With Pocock again ruled out due to a torn ACL in 2013, Hooper and fellow open-side Liam Gill were in the forefront of selection discussions. Having had such a successful introduction to Test Rugby in 2012, Hooper was given the starting reins for the first two Tests against the British & Irish Lions, before being moved to the bench by the return of Wallaby great George Smith.
Hooper’s initial introduction to Test Rugby featured a series of milestones, as it was his first time at the intimidating environment of Eden Park, and his first involvement facing the All Black legend Richie McCaw. It spoke volumes for Hooper’s self-belief that he was undaunted by the magnitude of the occasion.
So well did Hooper grasp his opportunity that he was voted as the team’s internal ‘Man of Gold’ four times by his peers from the nine matches in which he started prior to Pocock’s return in the final Test of the year in Cardiff, while winning the internal ‘Player of the Tour’ award for the four-Test Spring trip.
Hooper was also man of the match during Australia’s significant 20-14 win at Twickenham, as English fans rued the one that got away, given that the Wallabies’ star had been eligible for the Red Rose via his English-born father Chris.
Excellence through the Castrol EDGE Rugby Championship and the Spring Tour was just a continuation of the form that Hooper had shown when he first entered the Test arena, having given a strong indicator of his ability to cope with the demands of the best during last June’s Castrol EDGE Wales Tour. After enduring the disappointment of a Test defeat against Scotland during his debut match at Newcastle, Hooper bounced back by making a telling contribution off the bench during Australia’s critical 27-19 win over Wales in the first Test of what proved to be a clean sweep of the Six Nations champions.
Hooper’s emergence, and that of fellow 2012 rookie Liam Gill, couldn’t have come at a better time given the injuries to Pocock, who had shouldered a heavy burden after George Smith’s international retirement in 2010. Prior to last year’s injury in the Bledisloe Cup opener, Pocock had missed just three of the previous 32 Tests played by the Wallabies.
Now plying his trade with the NSW Waratahs in Super Rugby, it is perhaps the ultimate compliment to Hooper’s work in Canberra that the Brumbies needed to bring in his two immediate predecessors in the Wallabies Test number seven jersey – Pocock and Smith, to replace him!
Denied a shot at the Australian Schools side due to the requirement for shoulder surgery in his final year, Hooper was still snapped up by the Brumbies and slotted into the Brumby Runners development program in his first year out of school. His position on the club’s ‘development’ roster didn’t last long. The 18-year-old had only been in Canberra a few months when he was pushed into his Super Rugby debut during a win against the Chiefs at home in 2010. He was then included in the Australian Under-20s for the first time later that year but had the misfortune to miss the World Championships in Argentina after injuring his ankle in a warm up game prior to the team’s departure.
Hooper bounced back from that disappointment to provide one of the few positives of an otherwise ordinary Brumbies campaign in his second Super Rugby season, winning a second call up to the Australian Under-20s for the tournament in northern Italy. Although Australia missed out on a place in the final and had to settle for third, Hooper excelled, which was recognized by his Under-20 Player of the Year award at that year’s John Eales Medal.
He was an award winner again at last year’s ceremony, collecting the ‘Rookie of the Year’ award.
When Hooper made his debut for the Brumbies in 2010 standing in for an injured George Smith, it represented the first Super rugby appointment that the Qantas Wallabies centurion had missed in 60 games, and only the second time that Smith had not worn the number seven jersey across 126 games for the Brumbies since he had debuted in 2000.