Mature Hooper prepares to lead Wallabies

Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

When Michael Hooper was first thrown the Wallabies captaincy, he was also the second-youngest player in the Test squad.

AS 22, he was called up to replace the injured Stephen Moore in the 2014 June Series, becoming the third-youngest Wallabies captain in history, with only Will Skelton his junior among the Wallabies group.

Hooper had taken the lead in the final 75 minutes of the opening match against France, with Moore going down in the fifth minute, but had little time to prepare for the notion of being the official captain week in, week out.

Just past three years later, a very different Michael Hooper spoke to the media on Friday, preparing to lead the Wallabies out against Fiji, open about the way he has grown since the most brutal of captaincy baptisms.

Michael Hooper captained the Wallabies against Wales in 2014. Photo: Getty ImagesThough he only found out he would be captaining again when the team was announced on Thursday, there’s not the sense of a young man being thrown in the deep end this time around, but rather a captain-in-waiting having the chance to take control.

“I feel like I’ve grown up a lot,” he said.

“I’ve learned a lot of things since then and learned off a lot of people, being involved with some good old heads over the last couple of years has done a lot for me

“Being around Steve’s been extremely helpful, even around the Tahs environment for the last couple of years, learned a lot.

“I don't think I understand the importance of it then.

“It’s not a solo thing, it’s a team effort and that’s leadership too.”

It was by no means an easy transition when Hooper was initially thrown into the mix, at the beginning of a Test season that arguable became Australia’s most turbulent in recent memory.

That was the season Kurtley Beale attracted headlines for arguments with team management and coach Ewen McKenzie, the man who appointed Hooper, abruptly ended his Test stint after the third Bledisloe Cup match.

Those challenges would’ve tested the most experienced of leaders, and it’s a period Hooper jokes aged him ‘20 years’.

A more reflective Hooper said on Friday he had no regrets from that time, but bestowed the honour this weekend he feels he will take the job on with more perspective but also, crucially, a little more reliance on others.

Will Genia fell out of favour at Test level in 2014. Photo: Getty Images“I always understood the privilege that it was but if I look at myself then, I was young and it was tough, but that’s why I wouldn’t change it,” he said.

“I learned a lot, learned a lot about myself, probably aged 20 years in that time but you’re sometimes put in these positions and you do the best you can.

“I believe I did that, however (I'm) now really enjoying this opportunity this week and looking forward.”

Hooper has spoken this year of the lengths he has gone to improve his leadership at Super Rugby level, an evolution that had led to calls for him to be promoted to the Wallabies captaincy full-time.

Hooper was quick to say that Moore remained the team’s key leader, though they’re yet to discuss who’ll be on the front foot with the referee when the hooker comes onto the field.

“Steve’s not going to take a backwards step, he is the front man of this team,” he said.

“I think the past couple of years we’ve worked really well together.

“Steve has done a great job for the last couple of years and will continue to do a great job so I’m super keen to keep learning off Stephen and so are the people around him.”

The Wallabies take on Fiji kicking off at 3pm AEST LIVE on FOX SPORTS and via RADIO. Buy tickets here.