Hooper to play 'smarter' after signing mammoth deal

The Rugby Championship
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

Wallabies captain Michael Hooper has signed a mammoth five-year deal to stay in Australia but he admits he will have to manage his load better as his career goes on.

Hooper has barely missed a game in the past five years and was on track for a record run of Waratahs matches until a hamstring injury felled him in the final June Series Test.

The 26-year-old has missed five matches since, his longest stint on the sideline in professional rugby, and admitted he probably couldn’t continue to play as much as he has in the first half of his career.

“Yeah I've got to be smart,” he said.

“I got injured this year, which is unusual for me.

“I’ve got to look at why that happened, maybe it's age, playing time or something else.

“How we approach the next couple of years - and me personally outside rugby as well - so I can stay on the field as much as possible is a paramount and super important to me.

“That's working with coaching staff and high performance staff to get that right.”

Sabbaticals and time away from rugby are becoming increasingly common for players in a era when the season goes almost all year round.

Wallabies fullback Israel Folau sat out the Spring Tour last year and David Pocock spent a season completely out of Australia in 2017 as well.

In New Zealand, Richie McCaw and Dan Carter both undertook sabbaticals during the latter stages of their career and the All Blacks have mandated periods to sit out during the Super Rugby season.

Wallabies coach Michael Cheika said players would be more closely monitored with more long-term contracts being considered.

“He (Hooper)'s playing a high rate of games, so we'd be mad if we didn't look at some time away from the game,” he said.

“It may not be a year, it's more about player burnout, when do these guys play?

“Maybe (it’s) just a little bit more managing those types of loads, of guys that are clocking up Test matches and Super Rugby matches like a guy like Michael Hooper is.

“It'd be ignorant of us if we didn't look at that at some stage in the future.”

Flexible contracting opportunities have been employed more often in Australia, especially, in recent seasons as the lure of overseas money grows.

Hooper turned his back on lucrative overseas deals with his long-term commitment and Cheika commended the national squad for opting to stay in Australia rather than chase overseas riches.

“I would say the majority of players playing in Australia, in the Wallabies sort of level, could get more money playing overseas,” he said.

“But, I think that's where we've got to pay some credit to the players as well and also if they want to be a part of the national team, even though they're not guaranteed, no one's guaranteed that.”

Hooper’s commitment sends a strong message to the rest of the Wallabies and the wider Australian public about the direction of the sport and his faith in it.

Cheika said Australia was punching above its weight 

“We're often given a hard time by a lot of people for some reason, don't know why that is because there's a lot of good times come out of rugby.

“But I think we do an exceptional job in creating an environment where players want to stay and play for their country and the Super Rugby teams here when they could get more cash if they played overseas.

“I think we've done a really good job in that and I'm not afraid to say it.”

The Wallabies host the All Blacks in the first Bledisoe on Saturday August 18, kicking off at 8:05pm AEST, LIVE on FOX SPORTS and via RUGBY.com.au RADIO, with the Wallaroos taking on the Black Ferns from 5:15pm AEST as well. Buy tickets here.