Hooper quits as Waratahs captain
TEAM ANNOUNCEMENT: Michael Hooper has stepped down as skipper of the Waratahs just over a week from the start of the new Super Rugby season, but said he still wants to lead the Wallabies.
Hooper has handed the leadership to 30-year-old Test centurion Rob Simmons, with the Waratahs revealing the surprise switch ahead of their final pre-season match on Friday against Simmons’ former club the Queensland Reds.
“It’s a role that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed, but I feel that the time is right for someone like Rob to lead this group in the season ahead,” Hooper said.
The 28-year-old flank has been Waratahs captain since 2016 and after a tumultuous 2019, in which the Waratahs finished 12th and the Wallabies crashed out of the World Cup in the quarterfinals, he believed the time was right for a change.
#SuperRugby | Our captain and vice captain are locked in for 2020!
— NSW Waratahs (@NSWWaratahs) January 22, 2020
“It would be remiss of me to say it doesn’t have a taxing effect. There is much more than just running out on the park and leading the team out on the weekend,” he said.
“There is performances of teams that weigh into it, there’s you guys [the media] who are all my friends but having to speak every week is tough and tiring sometimes, to try and get the message right and represent the team as best as possible.
“Also a big part of it is I have another four years here, and I want to make those four years really special and take my personal game and my leadership to another level. Actually stepping back is going to allow me to do that.”
Hooper’s decision coincides with the arrival of new coach Rob Penney, who said the appointment of Simmons as captain and Kurtley Beale as vice captain, with Hooper adding support, was “in the best interest” of the squad.
“Rob has shown himself to be an incredible leader in my short time here at the Waratahs, his presence around the group and his experience at provincial and international level will be an invaluable resource for our younger boys,” Penny said.
“While Rob’s appointment is a wonderful recognition of his qualities, it’s also not his responsibility to lead alone which is something we’ve talked about with our senior players,” he said.
The Wallabies also have a new coach in Dave Rennie and Hooper said he still had a strong desire to lead Australia.
“My thoughts on that have not changed,” he said.
“I still do think I have a lot of growing in myself, in my gameplay and my captaincy. There are conversations Dave and myself will be having, I am sure in the future. But it is a bit of time off, so I am dealing with the here and now.”
Meanwhile, Rob Simmons will captain the Waratahs for the first time this Friday, as his side heads to Dalby to take on the QLD Reds in their final pre-season hit out.
The squads Rugby World Cup Wallabies return to the fold as Rob Penney’s side look to build on an impressive performance last week against the Highlanders.
Penney will take a 28-man squad to rural Queensland with Simmons to start, Jack Dempsey and Hooper returning to the backrow and Kurtley Beale to line up at fullback.
Beale’s inclusion sees Mark Nawaqanitawase shift to the wing with new recruit Jack Maddocks included on the reserves list.
Will Harrison will get his first start in the No.10 jersey, with Mack Mason to come off the bench.
Waratahs: 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 Mark Nawaqanitawase, 13 Lalakai Foketi, 12 Karmichael Hunt, 11 Alex Newsome, 10 Will Harrison, 9 Jake Gordon, 8 Jed Holloway, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Jack Demspey, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Tom Staniforth, 3 Harry Johnson-Holmes, 2 Robbie Abel, 1 Tom Robertson.
Replacements: 16 Damien Fitzpatrick, 17 Rory O’Connor, 18 Tetera Faulkner, 19 Pat Tafa, 20 Lachlan Swinton, 21 Charlie Gamble, 22 Mitch Short, 23 Mack Masoon, 24 Angus Bell, 25 Ryan McCauley, 26 Jack Maddocks, 27 Joey Walton, 28 Cam Clark.
Date: Friday, January 24
Venue: Dalby Leagues Club, Queensland
Kick-off: 19.30 (07.30 GMT)
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