Hooper hell bent on helping NSW to Super Rugby glory
Michael Hooper will play every game like it's his last as the champion flanker eyes a swan song Super Rugby Pacific title with the ever-improving NSW Waratahs.
Publicly undecided about his playing future beyond 2023, Hooper enters his 13th professional season "absolutely" believing the Waratahs can break their nine-year title drought.
"We're confident, we're ambitious as a team," Hooper said ahead of Friday night's season opener against the Brumbies.
"Every team wants to win the title. It's no different for us. We want to be there at the end, the real point end of the season, so we know that the elements that go into that start now and have started in the pre-season.
"But it really starts now so we've got to do it."
Hooper's optimism is in stark contrast to how the Tahs entered last year's competition under new coach Darren Coleman and following on from their harrowing and historic winless campaign in 2022.
But Coleman's somewhat left-field appointment has so far proven a masterstroke.
The Waratahs made the finals last season and credit much of the transformation to the mentor's savvy man management.
"He's got a really good knack of getting the best out of each individual. He spends time with his players," said Hooper, who captained NSW to their only Super Rugby title in 2014.
"So when it comes to feedback, no one is off limits. It's really direct. It's not condescending or overly critical or overly personal. It's more with the intention to get better.
"So that stems from the head coach and, in terms of a playing group, that's what we strive to be, to be better each training session.
"If we're doing that, and growing, even small gains over the course of the season turn out to be quite large.
"So it starts with here from the coaching class and then on to us as players."
Hooper believes starting the season back at Allianz Stadium for the first time in five years and against the benchmark Brumbies couldn't be more ideal.
"There's no easing in," he said.
"How exciting. Back at the stadium. The big lights come on on Friday night so that's where we want to be. It's important to put in a good performance.
"We know it's going to be a physical game, we've got a shape that we think we can impact the Brumbies really well with but, as always, they'll be formidable.
"They'll have a plan against us that they'll want to roll out so it's a great challenge to start our season with."
Also eager to help the Wallabies win the World Cup in France, Hooper won't say if this year will be his last in professional rugby.
But it's sure sounding like it.
"When you get closer to the end and you start to realise that it's about the end, the body of my career, you move on to next week and next game, this or that season and there's very little time to reflect," the 124-Test stalwart said.
"There's still a little time but you start to realise there's less and less cracks at it.
"Physically, the guys have done a great job with everyone but I feel personally in good shape. Mentally, I'm extremely motivated this season coming up and give it my all."