Michael Hooper: Wallabies captain close to return to action with Waratahs in Super Rugby Pacific

David Skippers

Wallabies skipper Michael Hooper could barely hide his excitement as he reacquainted himself with his Waratahs team-mates ahead of his return to action.

Hooper rejoined the group last week as he continues his recovery from a foot injury suffered against England last November, narrowly avoiding surgery.

Set for first Waratahs appearance since 2020

The 30-year-old last featured for the Waratahs in August 2020 after opting to take a sabbatical before returning to the Wallabies last season.

With the club experiencing a rollercoaster of results in his absence, the John Eales Medalist was impressed with what he saw from the young group, even if he had to introduce himself to a host of his new team-mates.

“It’s great to be back. I’ve been watching from afar for the past two years, really in-depth in the last couple of weeks, and I’ve been super impressed with what the guys have done at the start of the season,” Hooper told reporters.

“I’m just happy to see them start to see some turnaround and growing as a team and a unit. I’m excited to come in and try to add to that.

“The guys have worked so hard to put themselves in the position they are right now so to come in and feel that, I want to try and add to that and work out what’s been going on.

“I’ve been really impressed with some of the young guys as well as Jakey (Gordon) in that role and some good figures like Jamie (Roberts), I’ve been lucky to see from afar for two years and that’s exciting.”

Hooper’s goal is to be back next week in the Waratahs’ Super Rugby Pacific clash against the Fijian Drua, with a likely limit put on his minutes as part of the return-to-play process.

With the Waratahs on the bye the following week, the temptation is to hold him back until after that, although Hooper was keen to get back on the field as soon as possible.

“I’m fully functional at the moment so it’s now about the return-to-play,” he revealed. “I’ve been able to do a really good preparation to get the foot right, it was a significant injury in the end and I just avoided surgery.

“That protocol looks like I’m able to do everything solo or with one or two people, it’s just about interring into the team dynamics now.

“If that’s next week or the week after, I’m not sure but it’s all dependent on how this week goes and then making a call.”

Hooper spent 2021 in Japan with Toyota Verblitz alongside new stand-in captain Jed Holloway.

Over there, the pair struggled to disconnect from their old side, often spotted with an iPad at dinner time, dissecting and discussing how the Waratahs were going.

The time away allowed the flanker to appreciate what made the club special, only heightening his desire to reunite with his home state.

“It’s funny when you get removed from the environment, you realise what there is to miss when you are away,” Hooper reflects.

“When you are attached to something emotionally, it means a hell of lot. This is my home state, you grow up wanting to play for this team so there’s that extra attachment playing for a club you get up supporting.

“When you aren’t in that environment anymore, you realise it is awesome to be in. I’m towards the back half of my career so you realise it’s not a forever thing.”

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