'Incredible' truth around Wallabies skipper's slice of history

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Seen here, Michael Hooper is set to surpass George Gregan's record for most Tests as Wallabies captain.
Michael Hooper is set to surpass George Gregan's record for most Tests as Wallabies captain this weekend. Pic: Getty

Even at the age of eight, Wallabies captain Michael Hooper was inspiring young men around him.

Hooper was made skipper of his junior team at the Manly Roos in the under-9s and carried the job through to junior rep teams.

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No-one ever questioned his right to the captaincy. 

"You felt you couldn't lose when Hoop was playing," his former club and junior rep half-back Adam Crerar told Yahoo Australia.

"He was always leading from the front and never had a bad game. 

"He was the complete package even then. 

"How he plays now is exactly how he played when he was 12. It's quite incredible really."

Pictured here, Michael Hooper with his U/16 Manly rep team in 2007.
Michael Hooper's leadership skills were already firmly established when he was still a teenager. Pic: Supplied

Sam Lane, who played fly-half in Hooper-led rep teams, remembers a skipper who led by example more than words.

"His game was always a level above. He was the guy when you needed something to happen it would be him….whether a big run to score or one of his typical driving tackles," Lane said.

"He didn’t have to say much. He just led through actions like he does now.

"You ask all our dads - they always thought/said he'd be a Wallaby even from that young age."

Hooper will go past George Gregan's record for most Tests as Australian captain when he leads the Wallabies out for the 60th time against South Africa in round four of the Rugby Championship in Brisbane on Saturday night.

Hooper's junior teams won a lot more than they lost but the Test arena hasn't proved as profitable.

He's won 22 of 59 Tests, losing 30 and drawing six since taking on the top job at the tender age of 22.

Michael Hooper is a 'Wallaby great'

Hooper had led through a trying period for the national team, drawing comparisons with another Australian sporting leader, cricketer Allan Border.

Border inherited the job when Australian cricket was undergoing a massive rebuild in the 1980s and was regularly tormented by the mighty West Indies before emerging as a man for a crisis.

Swap West Indies for the All Blacks and a Kookaburra for a Gilbert and you've got Hooper playing a similar role.

And much like Border, 29-year-old Hooper is more interested in winning than personal milestones.

That the victories haven't come regularly on his watch paints an unfair perception of Hooper, according to Australia coach Dave Rennie. 

"People's opinions are often reflected on the success of a team, and he's been the captain, so because the team loses and he's the skipper that responsibility is on him," Rennie said.

"He's a Wallaby great. If he was playing in a different era with a team full of experienced and seasoned players and you're dominating the world, you'd go down as one of the best players in the world. 

"I still think he'll get that mantle."

Hooper's work on and off the ball and overall leadership skills will again be vital ingredients as the Wallabies look to build on last week's after-the-bell victory over the Springboks.

Was this a genuine turning of the corner and a sign of better days ahead or just another brief, joyous, interlude before we are crash-tackled back to reality?

Time will tell.       

Rennie has made three changes to his starting side for Saturday's return bout, bringing in half Nic White and front-rowers Taniela Tupou and James Slipper. 

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