Wallabies star Michael Hooper has poured his heart out about his recent mental health struggles, ahead of an impending return from a three-month hiatus from rugby.
Australia's longest-serving Wallabies captain and the country's only four-time player of the year stunned world rugby after announcing in August that he was taking a break from the game.
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Hooper sensationally pulled out of Test matches in Argentina after informing his Wallabies coach and teammates that he was flying home to be with his wife and young child.
In a candid first interview since Hooper decided to take a break from rugby, the 30-year-old thanked his wife Kate for her unwavering support, while insisting he has no immediate interest in returning to the Australian captaincy.
Speaking about his mental health break, Hooper revealed he'd sought "all types" of help from family, friends, sports therapists and professional counsellors.
"As a younger man, I viewed asking for help as, I guess, a bit of a weakness. You want to feel like you have it all worked out and I certainly didn't," Hooper said ahead of the Wallabies' spring-tour opening Test against Scotland on Saturday.
The 30-year-old said he struggled to balance the demands of being a new father with life as a travelling rugby star, and credits his wife Kate as being his rock.
"I've been playing the game for a long time, had some great changes in my life happen this year and there were a lot of things running through my head showing up in Argentina, and Argentina wasn't the place where I needed to sort these things out," he said.
"I wanted to be around family. I wanted to be in a place where I could put the time in to those things that I needed to put in.
"That doesn't mean that I'm sitting here now completely cured. It's not like that at all. At that point in time, I needed to be somewhere else. That wasn't Argentina.
"I know that's quite vague but, yeah, I'm still getting my head around it. It's not that long ago."
Hooper says informing Wallabies coach Dave Rennie that he wanted out was among the most difficult conversations he has endured across a decorated 121-Test career.
"I have high expectations of myself and pulling out of a game is certainly right up there with something I couldn't see myself doing. Of course it was hard," he said.
"It came around suddenly ... the beautiful thing about rugby and the hard thing about all sport is there's always the next goal so that you can move on and you can move on quick.
"It was probably exacerbated being overseas away from home but certainly where I'm at, in my career and things like that, you start to look at post-rugby. I've got a family now.
"So there's a lot (more) elements now than being a 22-year-old and pretty much being concerned about yourself and I think that played into it."
Michael Hooper not focused on returning as captain
While Hooper is back in the fold for the Wallabies' spring-tour and a planned comeback in Europe, he has no designs about returning to the captaincy role he's become so accustomed to.
Instead, the 30-year-old is happy to return the favour by offering his support to current skipper James Slipper, who Hooper says has always had his back.
“He supported me for a long time and he was an amazing person throughout my whole captaincy,” Hooper said.
“He’s got my utmost support for whatever he needs.
“What he said to me is that he wants me to come back and enjoy my rugby and compete. He understands that what’s good for the team is me going well, first and foremost mentally, but also physically.”
While acknowledging playing in a third World Cup next year was a massive lure, even that is not a given as Hooper focuses solely on simply enjoying playing the game again.
"I'm excited. I'm excited to be back - at this stage. I'm also realistic knowing that last time I was in here it didn't quite work out," the champion No.7 added.
"So I'm back putting myself in this position because I want to be here. I've got some great support around me and I'm realistic that there's going to be some really good days, and days that the realities of travel and rugby and stuff are difficult.
"But I think that's part of the whole journey. Part of doing what we do is that whole rollercoaster."
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