Wallabies bolter Tom Hooper on the Australian and Brumbies great he wants to emulate, Rugby World Cup, analysis

Life was a little bit different for Tom Hooper during the Brumbies’ pre-season.

Not only has he emerged as a starting XV contender in a star-studded forward pack, but the blindside flanker’s younger brother, Lachlan, turned up.

The Hoopers are the latest pair of brothers to feature for the Brumbies, joining the Lonergans, Ryan and Lachlan, and following the Fainga’as, Saia, Anthony and Colby.

But unlike the aforementioned brothers, Tom and Lachlan play the same position.

“We’ve had a group of young boys in that have been a really good addition, my brother’s included in that little group of young fellas, so that’s been interesting having him around,” Hooper told The Roar.

“He just signed for a few years.

“He’s 18, so he’s just graduated from Barker. And he is [in] my position, so in a few years’ time, he might be the one kicking me out.”

So what was it like growing up in the Hooper household?

“We had heaps of busts up when I was growing up,” the Bathurst-raised product said.

“He’s actually left-handed, I’m right-handed, so we only ever had one set of boxing gloves. I’d take the right-handed glove and he’d take the left-handed glove and the rest is history. It usually ended up in tears or just him getting angry because he’s a fiery little bastard.

“So a couple of bust-ups, a couple of touch games in the backyard that turned into tackle, but because he was three years’ younger than me, he was always a little bit smaller but he’s just got that dog about him, that bit of fight about him.”

The brothers are now very close. Tom is more serious whereas Lachlan is a “relaxed character”. As for the cooking duties?

“He’s been turning his nose up at a few meals that I’m making him because it’s not quite up to the standard that his chefs were making him at the Barker boarding house,” Hooper quipped.

Hooper, 21, turned heads in 2022. As some faded as the season went on, Hooper impressed many with his dogged displays and strong engine, particularly after star back-rower Rob Valetini missed the tail end of the regular season before returning in time for the semi-final against the Blues in Auckland.

Tom Hooper has set his sights on making the Wallabies after a breakout 2022. Photo: Brumbies Media

Before then, Hooper was emerging as a bolter for the Wallabies. Perhaps not immediately, but in time.

Standing at 199cm and hitting the scales at 118kg, Hooper is physically just the type of player the Wallabies are after; a tall lineout option, physical and relentless around the breakdown.

It’s what impressed former Wallabies coach Michael Cheika during an eye-catching display against the Hurricanes in the Brumbies’ home quarter-final win last June.

“He was tireless tonight, he did a lot of tight work,” Cheika said of Hooper. “I haven’t watched a lot of him but he is a real competitor which I love.”

You get the feeling that Hooper might have reminded of him another rugged blindside flanker, Scott Fardy, who was pivotal in the Wallabies’ run to the World Cup final in 2015.

In truth, the Wallabies haven’t ever been able to replace Fardy since he left Australian rugby. He provided the Wallabies balance in the back-row and complemented David Pocock and Michael Hooper.

Funnily enough, the rising No.6, who is capable of playing in the second-row too, said Fardy was the player he looked up to as a teenager.

“I was a big fan of Scotty Fardy,” Hooper said.

“It’s quite funny because Jesse Mogg quite often likes me and Fards together because we’re not necessarily the fastest blokes, but we get through a bit of work and do the hard yakka. I don’t know whether that’s a positive or he’s actually having a go at me.

Tom Hooper says he wants to follow to emulate Scott Fardy, who was instrumental in the Wallabies’ run to the World Cup final in 2015. Photo: Dan Mullan/Getty Images

“I always looked up to him and you see a bloke like that, just a tough bugger, going into contact, coming out with scars on his face, that’s the sort of bloke I want to model my game off and I’m lucky enough to be sitting in his locker right now. We share a locker, so hopefully I can emulate his game a bit more as the season goes on. But all those kinds of characters. Rocky Elsom, Owen Finegan, tough No.6s with a bit of skill.”

For the time being, Hooper knows he has ground to make up. A shoulder injury in the Brumbies’ heartbreaking 20-19 semi-final defeat at Eden Park ended his season.

It robbed Hooper of the chance of moving one step closer to a Wallabies jersey, with the Brumbies forward to have made the Australian A squad for the Pacific Nations Cup were it not for his season-ending injury.

It is there that others like Langi Gleeson started to make their run, which culminated in the first-year Waratahs back-rower making his debut for the Wallabies on the end of season Spring Tour.

It’s why Hooper wants to hit the ground running.

“I was happy with the opportunities that I got at the back end of Super last year, but it was a bit of a bitter taste in the mouth with that injury,” he said.

“I obviously didn’t get any opportunities past that.

“So just picking up where I left off as far as Super Rugby goes and making sure I’m working every day to get a starting jersey because, obviously, you look at our stocks this year, our back-row and our second-row stocks are really good. I’ve got three Wallaby second-rowers and two of the big dogs in the Wallabies [Valetini and Pete Samu] in our back-row, so there’s not many spots up for grabs there.

“I’m just working really hard to make sure I’m going up in a starting jersey.

“I’d be lying if I didn’t say that one of my goals was to try and crack a Wallaby squad later in the year after some good performances, but we’ll see what happens and see how I’m progressing. I think I’ve got the self-belief to sort of push on and try my hand at that.”

Tom Hooper carts the ball up in the Super Rugby Pacific Semi Final match against the Blues at Eden Park on June 11, 2022 in Auckland. Photo: Hannah Peters/Getty Images

Hooper missed out on Rennie’s first 44-man Wallabies training squad for the year.

Rennie chose 10 back-rowers in the squad, which included two out-and-out openside flankers as well as the versatile Samu and Charlie Gamble.

It means Hooper is coming from a long way back, but with the blindside flanker role particularly open, with Waratahs hardman Lachlan Swinton also missing selection after an injury-plagued 2022, players can certainly make a late for selection.

“I’d never really expected to be in that squad off the basis of this injury slowing my growth as a player and my ability to get opportunities, but it puts a fire in the belly and it makes me hungry to sort of get in that squad and see my name on that paper,” Hooper said.

“From there, obviously, there’s a big difference between being in a squad and actually playing, so that’s my goal is to play for the Wallabies and that might happen if I play well for the Brumbies and by making sure we win a Super Rugby title and I’m a big part of that.”

Tom Hooper runs the ball back into the teeth of the defense against the Highlanders at GIO Stadium on June 11, 2021 in Canberra. Photo: Mark Nolan/Getty Images

Making an early statement against the Waratahs on the opening night of Super Rugby Pacific on February 24 is just what Hooper needs to get tails wagging.

Indeed, it’s what Australian rugby needs, particularly with a blockbuster earlier in the evening against the Crusaders and Chiefs, and the other codes Down Under working their way to the end of preseason.

“I think as soon as the draw came out, and I saw it was the Waratahs and I saw it was at the new stadium, I was very excited,” Hooper said.

“Having been off rugby for six months now, it’s one that I definitely had circled, and I think Bernie (returning coach Stephen Larkham) probably had circled to get one up on his mate Darren Coleman as well.

“It’s exciting. They’ve got five guys in their back-five in the Wallabies squad, so they’re going to have a really good forward pack and they’ve got a couple of props as well in the Wallabies and it’s just going to be a great tussle at the new stadium.

“A bit of typical Australian tough footy, so I’m really looking forward to it and I dare say as a whole Brumbies organization we’re really looking forward to playing the old enemy, and at the new stadium, it’s just a good advertisement for rugby.”

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