Dempsey to fight like Rocky in long-awaited NSW return: Hooper

Super Rugby
by Iain Payten

Waratahs captain Michael Hooper says he is excited to see Jack Dempsey relaunch his Super Rugby career, and likened the backrower to former Wallabies skipper Rocky Elsom.

Dempsey has been named at no.8 for NSW to meet the Hurricanes in his first Super Rugby clash in 19 months, following a horrific hamstring injury at the end of 2017 that saw the youngster miss the entire Tahs season last year.

The dynamic flanker returned to Wallabies duty at the end of 2018, and impressively given the long rehabilitation, but this year represents the first chance for Dempsey to roll out his first uninterrupted Super campaign in four years with the sky blues.

Since debuting in 2015, Dempsey has only played 21 Super Rugby games, with a foot injury having sidelined him for much of 2017. 

 
Jack Dempsey is closing in on a rugby return. Photo: Getty ImagesHe enjoyed a breakout Test winter for the Wallabies subsequently but tore his hamstring off the bone in a nasty injury playing against the Barbarians.

"It's firstly good just to have Jack back,” Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson said.

"I think he's had those two disrupted years for us and it'll be really great for him to get some decent minutes and really string some games together.”

Hooper, who will play at no.7 with Dempsey at no.8 and Ned Hanigan on the blindside, was similarly enthusiastic for his back row ally.

"It’s great for Jack to get a go in the Waratah jersey,” Hooper said.

"It has been a long time for him and a long road, and he is playing in a jersey he really wants to play in. I am super pumped to see him get out there this weekend, and he has really grown a nice combination with Ned in last week’s trial. That was good.”

 
Jack Dempsey has been on a steep learning curve this year. Photo: RUGBY.com.au/Stuart WalmsleyElsom also had his battles with chronic injuries but Hooper pointed towards the similarities between the pair based on their explosive running games, and ability to slip tackles at the line.

"He is very explosive and he brings some real finesse,” Hooper said.

"He sometimes looks a bit like Rocky Elsom when he runs the ball and he has got some of the on-field attributes with some of the skills he can pull out. There really are some similarities there.

"What comes to mind though is his ball-carrying ability and what he can do in manipulating defence.

“He is certainly great for our team on and off the field.

"He is very hungry to get in there and make a stand in a Waratah jersey this year."

Dempsey has been shifted to no.8 to cover for the absence of Michael Wells, who has two more tournaments to play for the Australian sevens team before returning.

Jed Holloway is also now being used as a lock for the Waratahs.

"We spoke to Jack around this year playing more eight. His preference is to play six but with Ned Hanigan in our side, it's trying to get both of them on the field at the same time,” Gibson said.

"Jack's happy to play at 8 and it's a role that he plays naturally.”

Hooper is one of six Waratahs who are playing their first game of the year in the opening Super Rugby clash, but the captain said he has no concerns about a lack of match-readiness.

"We made really concerted effort to try and get our load right in training and get our physical level up in training, to get our contact up on weeks going than we previously would have because you have a trial in years gone by,” he said.

"In the first game of the year, or first few games of the year, you are going to be blowing. 30 minutes, 20 minutes in, and more towards the back end of the game in particular, you will be out on your feet at times. I guess coming to terms with that and understanding what you can do within those limitations."

The Waratahs take on the Hurricanes on Saturday February 16 at Brookvale Oval, kicking off at 7:45pm AEDT, LIVE on FOX SPORTS and via RUGBY.com.au RADIO. Buy tickets here.