Opportunistic Hooper storms into Wallabies debut

Thu, Jul 6, 2023, 11:21 PM
Nathan Williamson
by Nathan Williamson
Tom Hooper is the latest to step up into the Wallabies backrow. Photo: Getty Images
Tom Hooper is the latest to step up into the Wallabies backrow. Photo: Getty Images

A lot was made about the controversial Wallabies resting policy but it may have delivered the number six of the future.

The 22-year-old will start on debut against South Africa in Pretoria on July 9, partnering namesake Michael and Brumbies teammate Rob Valetini.

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It’s a remarkable rise for the young forward with just 11 Super starts to his name. However, Hooper has made his name snatching opportunities when they present, fighting for every cap at the Brumbies, impressing Wallabies coach Eddie Jones.

“He rips in mate,” Jones told reporters on what impressed him.

This epitomises Hooper’s career. After limited minutes off the bench in 2021, Hooper was handed his starting debut in March last year against the Rebels after injuries to Darcy Swain and Cadeyrn Neville 

He made an instant impact, bursting the line twice in the first 25 minutes to set up Brumbies tries. The bruising performance meant Dan McKellar had to find a spot for the red headgear-wearing forward and by the end of the Super season, Hooper found himself starting at blindside flanker in the semi-final defeat to the Blues.

It was a similar trend in 2023, Hooper having to fight his way from outside of the squad, this time due to injury.

Hooper suffered a nasty footy injury during a pre-season trial, eventually returning via the bench in round 11.

However, with Neville and Nick Frost required to miss games towards the end of the regular season, the Vikings product once again took his opportunity and timed his run to perfection.

He was their best on ground in his first two starts of 2023, defeats to the Force and Chiefs, and once again played himself into the Brumbies side.

With Rob Valetini and Pete Samu firing, Stephen Larkham was in a similar position to his predecessor, starting him at openside flanker in the semi-final rematch against the Chiefs.

This was enough to catch the eye of Jones and his strong performances at training saw him leapfrog the likes of Jed Holloway and Rob Leota into the starting side.

“I went down to the Brumbies early in their season and few of their coaches, I know Stevie (Larkham) pretty well, and they were saying ‘keep an eye out for this young fella’,” Jones said.

“He had a late start because of injury and his first few games weren’t very impressive and I thought ‘Does Stevie really know what he’s talking about here?’ 

“But certainly, towards the end of the season, he was an absolute standout for them.”

Wallabies co-captain James Slipper has seen the rise of Hooper over the past two years, eager to see him step up to the level.

“He just goes at. He throws his body into everything,” Slipper remarked.

“He’s got a really level head on his shoulders and he just wants to be the best teammate he can possibly be for the group. For us right now, he’s the perfect fit and worked extremely hard to get where he is.

“It’s really pleasing to see him in the team because he’s had a rough start to the year so it’ll be good to see run out there for his debut.”