Michael Hooper has stepped down as skipper of the NSW 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 flanker 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 quarter-finals, he believed the time was right for a change.
“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.”