Michael Hooper sees no point in laying down the law to his Waratahs teammates about how things will be on his watch. There are so many experienced heads he hopes will impart their wisdom on a squad attempting to write a new and exciting chapter in the club’s history.
The 24-year-old was named Waratahs captain this week by coach Daryl Gibson and, although Hooper has had success in charge of NSW before – he led them to an inaugural Super Rugby title in 2014 – it is the first time he has started a season as leader with a clean slate.
There is no better time for Hooper to take over the captaincy; a position many expect he will hold for many years. He had just over nine weeks to rejuvenate and recover from the bumps and bruises of a gruelling World Cup campaign and, in that time, ensured he did as little as possible.
Hooper did, however, manage to get out of Sydney. He attended Lost Paradise – a three-day camping music festival in Glenworth Valley – with a handful of school mates and friends from the northern beaches where he grew up.
For the record, Hooper’s favourite acts were British producer Jamie xx and local legend Hayden James.
“I had a great time,” says Hooper of the festival in which he danced alongside 5000 other avid partygoers. “It was actually a really good festival, really laid back. I enjoyed myself.”
After welcoming the New Year in relaxing fashion, it was back to business for Hooper on the first Monday of 2016.
The openside flanker, who became the first player to win three consecutive Matthew Burke Cups as the Waratahs’ Players’ Player of the Year, was informed by Gibson that last season’s leader, Dave Dennis, would be named club captain instead.
Hooper says the transition was speedy, but is adamant his bond with Dennis will be beneficial in the long run.
“Denno is such a respected presence that nothing is going to change there … the words that he says are more potent than ever,” Hooper says.
“He embodies what the club is about, so for myself and Dave it’s really a partnership of how we go about getting this team on the right page. It’s going to be a learning curve and I’ve got a great group of experienced heads here that are going to help each other to get the result we want. It’s definitely a cooperative effort and it’s a work in progress for me.”
Do not expect Hooper to stamp his authority on this squad in the way a cricket skipper might, for he feels there is no need to. Despite leading the Waratahs to that famous 2014 Super Rugby title in front of 61,823 fans at ANZ Stadium, Hooper wants his players to strive for new, lofty heights.
“I think it’s pretty important that we don’t chase the feeling of 2014; it’s about creating a new one, especially for guys who have been here before,” Hooper says. “There would be guys in the squad who would be looking at that year  as certainly a standout year, but for the majority of guys, we want to create something new and unique.
“We want to create something special from this group.”
Like Hooper, Gibson will start the season in charge for first time after filling the void of now-Wallabies coach Michael Cheika.
He is adamant Hooper will continue to demand respect from players, despite his age, because of his stoic on-field performances.
“I think Michael will be very much a follow-me type leader,” says Gibson of Hooper, who has played for 80 minutes in all but two of his 50 games for the club. “Everyone leads in different ways, and I think you’ll really see him leading from the front.”
Asked whether he thinks he still fits into young brigade of the squad, Hooper laughs.
“I’ve played a lot of footy and the body sometimes doesn’t feel like it was when you’re 18, but everyday turning up you pinch yourself at how good it is to play rugby in Sydney for the Waratahs,” Hooper says.
“It’s a pretty special place and that’s why we want to make the most every year that we have here.”
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