Why Michael Hooper's time in Australian rugby could be up

Michael Hooper is pictured here during a Test match for the Wallabies.
Michael Hooper has taken an indefinite break from Australian rugby due to mental health concerns. Pic: Getty

Wallabies skipper Michael Hooper is only a couple of months away from having to make the biggest call of his life.

Does he return to see out the rest of his wonderful career or have we seen the last of one of Australian rugby's great warriors?

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Hooper has not played since Australia's loss to England in mid-July, abruptly returning home from Argentina on the eve of his side's opening Rugby Championship fixture against the Pumas in early August.

The 30-year-old said he was not in the right head space to play at the highest level and not a great deal has changed, according to those close to the issue.

Hooper, a new father, didn’t like the feelings of separation that came over him while overseas and made the brave and correct decision to put his mental health first and return to the familiarity and comfort of family and friends.

The 121-Test veteran has spent most of his time at his home base on Sydney's northern beaches, regularly heading out for walks along the beachfront with his young child, partner and dog.

But time is ticking away before Hooper needs to let his employers know his next move.

Wallabies skipper Michael Hooper is seen here barking directions in a Test match against England. Pic: Getty
Wallabies skipper Michael Hooper is seen here barking directions in a Test match against England. Pic: Getty

While the Waratahs and Rugby Australia are giving him all the space he needs, Hooper realises he can’t stay on the payroll indefinitely without returning to the paddock.

Physically he is in shape but it's the mental battle Hooper is wrestling with.

He has to weigh up whether the constant travel and time away, coupled with the wear and tear on his body, is worth it heading into a busy World Cup year.

He's been allowed to ponder his future in peace, away from the heavy media spotlight that would have fallen on a NRL or AFL player in a similar situation.

The care, attention and understanding afforded him has been first-class.

Rennie has ruled out his captain returning for the upcoming Bledisloe Cup series and you'd have to think the backrower is at long odds to board the flight for the gruelling 5-Test spring tour of Europe.

If he opts out of that trip, he will need to let the Waratahs know of his intentions reasonably soon as they head back for pre-season training.

"I’ve had plenty of contact with Hoops, I’m not going to comment on where he's at and what that looks like, we’re not looking to include him in the rest of the Rugby Championship,” Rennie said.

"We'll make decisions beyond that, but certainly not looking to rush him in. But he’s certainly on the improve."

Hooker Dave Porecki, who has known Hooper most of his life, believes his good friend and teammate will return but didn’t sound completely convinced.

"I caught up with him when I got back (to Australia from Argentina). It’s obviously a bit weird not hearing his voice in here right now but he will eventually be back in.

"The boys are supportive, with respect that's probably all I'm going to say on it.”

Hooper has earned the right to make the next move – and all bets are still very much on the table – but D-Day can’t be held off forever.