Waratahs prepare Sydney farewell for Hooper as Olympics loom on horizon
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The Waratahs are preparing a farewell for Michael Hooper next week in his last Super Rugby game in Sydney, but the star flanker remains a chance to stay in Australian colours past the Rugby World Cup and through to an appearance in sevens at the Paris Olympics in 2024.
Hooper is nearing the end of a five-year contract and though the 31-year-old is uncertain about where – or if – he will play next year, he has informed NSW Rugby he will not be continuing in Super Rugby.
That means the Waratahs’ clash with Moana Pasifika on Saturday week at Allianz Stadium is almost certainly Hooper’s last game at home.
The sixth-placed Tahs are still a remote chance of finishing in fourth and hosting a quarter-final but would require a series of increasingly improbable results over the last two rounds, starting with a draw between the Blues (4) and Hurricanes (5) on Saturday. And, on current standings, three quarter-final upsets would be required for NSW to host a semi-final.
So Waratahs bosses are quietly preparing to pay tribute to Hooper at home next week with a modest post-game presentation, and will market the game as a chance for NSW to farewell the man who has played 139 games for NSW since 2012, and skippered the team to a Super Rugby title win in 2014.
Hooper, who is likely to be rested for the Tahs’ trip to Christchurch this week, spoke recently about not knowing what he’ll do in the future but the No.7 is weighing up between four options: retirement, playing in France or Japan, or pursuing a stint with the Australian sevens team and the chance of becoming an Olympian next year.
Michael Hooper run into the field with the Waratahs in Sydney. Next week will be the last time.Credit: Getty
The John Manenti-coached Australian men’s sevens team rounded out an impressive World Series at the weekend by securing a fifth-placed finish, and their first automatic Olympic qualification. Previously, the Aussie men earned spots in Rio and Tokyo by winning at the Oceania qualifier.
Hooper told this masthead last year he was interested in following in the footsteps of Samu Kerevi, Sonny Bill Williams and Cheslin Kolbe and playing sevens in the Olympics.
“It would be cool wouldn’t it?” Hooper said. “Seeing Samu and the guys represent your country at an Olympics, that’s pretty special. But I honestly don’t know if I could do it athletically.”
Australian sevens performance manager Scott Bowen said Hooper had the speed and athleticism, and predicted would be “outstanding” for the team given his leadership and experience.
Michael Hooper charges forward against the Drua in SydneyCredit: Getty
Hooper mentioned the Olympics again last month and informed sources say discussions have continued between Rugby Australia and Hooper’s camp about the option of him joining the Aussie sevens program, which holds appeal given the squad is based in Sydney.
Stephen Hoiles, a former assistant coach of the Australian sevens team, said Hooper could handle the physical transition comfortably and said he’d be a huge asset to Manenti’s program.
Hoiles said he’d previously talked with Hooper about playing sevens ahead of the Tokyo Olympics.
“He is definitely one of the people who could succeed at that level … the most important ingredient is almost the ability to stuff yourself in the hurt locker and stay there for 14 minutes, six times in a weekend,” Hoiles said.
“It doesn’t sound like much but it’s almost harder than 15s, where its intense but you get plenty of breaks. Hoops’ experience and mindset would help lift that squad, for sure. He has good skills and is a good reader of the game.
“You have to be careful, those guys in there qualified and the program is as good as it’s been for long, long time.
“But I know the goal of Johnny and Chucky [assistant coach James Stannard] will be to win a gold medal, so they’ll now starting talking to guys and look to supplement a core group of 10 with a few guys like Corey Toole, Lachie Anderson, Marky [Nawaqantiwase] and a guy like Hoops. If you are going to medal, you want 16-18 guys competing for spots and have good players missing out.”
Hooper said last month he had given himself no time frame on a decision, given his focus is purely centred on achieving success with the Waratahs and the Wallabies at the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
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