Waratahs star Michael Hooper admits he’s changed the way he’s looking at rival Australian clubs as they produce encouraging results in Super Rugby Pacific’s trans Tasman battles.
Hooper, speaking to reporters at the launch of the Wallabies 2022 jerseys on Wednesday, said he had noticed a renewed hunger this season and hoped it translated to a big international campaign for the national team.
As Wallabies captain Hooper has found himself invested in all the Australian teams – a change from his mndset in the past – and said then performances overall have been “a nice narrative overall.”
“Seeing other teams win and a general feeling that it’s great to see those teams win … I’ve been in camps where you death-ride teams a bit, especially Aussie counterparts, and not wanted to see them do well,” said Hooper.
“That’s definitely changed for me and I’m definitely pleased for some of the teams that are doing well at the moment.
“There been a hunger to change that story and be part of a new feel. That’s a real big motivating factor for a lot of those players to change and shift that and that’s been noticeable.”
The Waratahs – pushing for a top four finish – have been the surprise packet of the campaign, while the Brumbies are Australia’s pacesetters.
“I’ve been really impressed and the Brumbies obviously stand out there with what they’ve been doing,” said Hooper.
“They’re leading the way at the moment and we’re growing from strength to strength. We’ve got some really good challenges coming up in the next couple of weeks with two home games and one away and all against tough opposition, so we’re in a good place at the moment.”
Asked if he had noticed if the Aussie teams were playing with a certain style or characteristic, Hooper said: “I don’t know about a characteristic but there’s certainly a hunger about what the teams are wanting to do and the desperation in terms of how they’re playing. That’s been noticeable and that’s the main thing.”
Hooper missed last weekend’s win over Moana Pasifika with the after effects of concussion and is still unsure if he will return at Leichhardt Oval on Saturday.
“It’s getting there Just going through the protocols of returning to play,” he said. “It was a pretty significant knock it took so just making sure we really get it right for the next couple of weeks.
“It’s ticking the protocols – more to look through tomorrow before we make the announcement. DC’s been good at managing that along with the staff.”
Hooper is excited about a huge 18 months ahead for the national team, starting with a three-Test series against England in July.
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It’s seven years since Australia beat the old enemy.
“It doesn’t seem that long ago since 2016 when they came out here last but a lot’s happened since then,” Hooper said. “It’s a great series to have, 18 months out from the World Cup so we’re really pleased with getting the opportunity to play these guys.
“England are very good at the moment, and they have been for a long time. Any three games, getting three wins against any team would be important so against these guys who are really quality at the moment, how that sets up your year – it’s a nice place to be [if you win].”
And how do the teams currently compare?
“The easy way to answer that is in two months’ time we can tell you,” he said. “They got the better of us last year at Twickenham, we get to play them at three home games, places we’ve had good success before.
“A Test at the SCG will be cool and unique for us at this point in time, so it’s good to be on the other side of these things and have a home game.”
Later in the week World Rugby is expected to confirm Australia as host of the men’s 2027 RWC and women’s 2029 tournament.
Hooper said he didn’t expect to still be in action for the Wallabies at that time – but there’s every chance that scenario will change the closer he gets to it.
“What an opportunity for young players if that was to come through,” Hooper said.
“What a time to be a part of rugby and as someone who’s probably going to be on the other side of it then, but for some of younger guys to be part of that … what a great era or chapter of Australian rugby. “
There were discussions overnight about a radical makeup of the Test calendar, with a touted Nations Championship considered that has been estimated to inject up to 40 percent more funding into the international game.
Hooper said if it delivered growth for the sport that would make the change worthwhile.
“In terms of the player – and I probably speak for most players – every Test is meaningful,” said Hooper.
“Just because you’re playing a one-off game against England at the end of the year or Scotland or whoever, it’s still super meaningful in terms of the player.
“I’m definitely open to hearing what suggestions they have and how to bring more viewers to the game and if that’s going to work that’s exciting.
“It’s for minds who have put much more time and thought into it than I do.
“I’ve got to run out there and pass the footy, they put out the ideas on how to make it look better. It’s exciting though.”
Izaia Perese has been in strong form during SRP with some judges believing he’s a decent shout of replacing Len Ikitau in the Wallabies No.13 jersey this season.
“I’m pushing for that 13 jersey,” Perese said on Wednesday. “Lenny is the standard. He’s a great example of what the 13 jersey should be. Whether or not I get it doesn’t matter to me just as long as I get to be in that squad.
“Wherever they see me it doesn’t bother me – 13, wing, 10 wherever … I’m just having a joke!”
But Perese made it clear that wherever he plays he wants to be prepared properly.
“It’s all about the prep – if they see me as a wing it would be good to get some prep as a wing, if they see me as a 13 get me some prep there. If they see me as a both, I’ll do both. I’m not really fussed on it.”
Perese paid tribute to his Tahs centres partner Lalakai Foketi.
“It’s all because of the team around me. They complement me very well,” Perese said of his form. “Especially Lal – without Lal I don’t think I’d be playing the best footy I can. He does a lot for me that maybe goes unrecognised.
“We are looking up, we’re feeding off each other’s ideas. We back each other and whatever seems right is right and we go with it. “
Perese recently signed an extension to stay in Australian rugby and, having spent time in rugby league, urged others in the 13 man game to consider the code.
“There’s so much more opportunities in Australia and overseas,” Perese said. “In Australia what we’re doing at the moment with rugby it’s definitely growing and getting a lot more exciting and you can tell with the atmosphere and crowds we’re getting out at the Tahs -and hopefully we get that for the Wallabies as well.”
Auckland Blues and All Blacks flyer Caleb Clarke has moved to clarify his comments saying he would love to play in the NRL, and links to South Sydney.
Clarke is expected to sign a new deal with NZR, according to the NZ Herald. He hit the headlines during the Super round in Melbourne when he was linked to a rugby league move after next year’s World Cup.
“As much as I always say I’d love to play league I have so many things I want to tick off in rugby before I even think about going to league,” he said.
“Because we were in Australia, in Melbourne, it got blown out of proportion, but my focus is here and being the best rugby player I can be. That would be the truth on where that matter stands in terms of league.”
Meanwhile his teammate Roger Tuivasa-Sheck told the same paper he was starting to find his fe3et after his switch from the Warriors, but that his defence still needed work.
“As a fullback in rugby league, I’m at the back and demand the boys do the work,” he said.
“In rugby, I’m in the front line, making sure I’m reading the lines I’m defending and then the ruck work, working out what’s legal, what’s not legal. As a midfield defender, I’ve got to be really good at the job.”
Colourful England prop Joe Marler says rugby must do more to capture the imagination of the wider public, and warned that it is shrinking.
The 31-year-old has written a column for Rugby World magazine explaining his approach to fashion and life.
“Away from individuality, this sport is shrinking. We all love the sport, play it, report on it, watch it, but it’s shrinking. People want more access to players, to connect with players and know who you are. Why wouldn’t you give that for the sport to grow and get bigger?” he wrote.
“It’s taken me a long time to be comfortable with myself but having kids and seeing the impact meeting Gareth Southgate had on my son, Jasper, recently… If I can have a similar effect on someone who likes rugby as much as Jasper likes football and they want to engage in the sport, why wouldn’t I do that?
“I remember when I first came through and had a mohican, people said: ‘You have to make sure you play well if you look like that.’ That works both ways – it forces me to back it up.
“People aren’t used to players not having a short back and sides or coming from a private school, but this is who I am, this is how I enjoy being. It’s not the norm for rugby but to grow the sport we have to appeal to different people. People who love rugby will keep coming back but we need to engage others.”