Rugby Australia announced the retention of skipper Michael Hooper on a record-breaking, five-year $6 million deal, in a major coup for the code, keeping a cornerstone of the Wallabies around for the long-term.
At $1.2 million a season, the 26-year-old openside is locked in until the end of 2023, over the next two World Cups. Is this deal a winner for both parties?
With SAANZAR rights negotiations on the table after next year, locking in elite talent now could prove savvy as player salaries at the top end of the market climb rapidly post-2019.
Conversely, if South Africa departs for the Northern Hemisphere it would leave a huge mess and cripple the value of the next broadcast rights deal. With the NZR attempting to do the same length of contract with Rieko Ioane and others, it might be a sign they believe the ‘doomsday’ scenario is unlikely, in which case makes this deal a winner.
Rugby Australia should be applauded for reaching this deal with Hooper – they secured their best player in the prime of his career for the long-term.
Whilst fellow star openside David Pocock’s own monster three-year deal included a year sabbatical and an offseason stint in Japan, Hooper’s commitment to the Wallabies and Rugby Australia has no such clauses.
He will be fresh and focused on the Wallabies, without the risk of getting injured playing overseas – as was the case with Pocock.
With Australia lacking depth in so many positions, they now have a luxury with two of the worlds best playing the same position for the foreseeable future. They have forced Chieka to innovate and find a way to get them both on the field, and the presence of the other will only push both to get better. The back row is the clear strength of the Wallabies, and that will continue to be so.
As a player, he offers more in attack than Pocock with more speed and game-breaking ability as a ball carrier. He is capable of more dynamic play in attack as well as possessing a tireless work rate in defence, playing far above his size at international level so far.
Whilst he isn’t as effective as Pocock at the breakdown, their skillsets diverge enough to provide the Wallabies two completely different players that compliment rather than conflict with each other.
Hooper deserves credit for this too.
He is committed to seeing the Wallabies re-gain the Bledisloe after the biggest drought in history, and is driven by a higher vision for the green and gold. This is admirable to see when so many of Australia’s talent end up overseas when they could still be playing for the Wallabies.
His $1.2 million salary isn’t pennies, but it is taking a haircut on what he could’ve found on the open market. With Euros and Pounds holding more value than the Australian dollar, he is not being paid his true market value. Hooper stands to be underpaid significantly, especially at the back-end of the deal.
When you consider he could’ve also negotiated a couple of off-season stints in Japan in between seasons to bump his earning capacity, his commitment to his country can’t be criticised. His body will recuperate in the off-season instead of being pushed to its limits with endless winters. Whether he can be as effective at age 31 remains to be seen, but Pocock will be 31 next year and still shapes as a key player.
What he lacks in size, he makes up for in intangibles. He seems to be one of the only Wallabies prepared to consistently take the fight to the All Blacks, and despite being on the wrong end of the scoreboard more times than not he still gives it everything.
His on-field stoushes with Dane Coles and Sam Cane are probably the best thing seen by this millennial generation. There appears to be a true dislike there, growing from years of battles, providing some spice to what has become an otherwise predictable fixture.
In the Wallabies win last year in Bledisloe III, a number of the All Blacks forwards lost composure. Coles had clearly been unsettled by Hooper’s niggling play – so much so he had to be substituted before being carded.
To let Hooper walk would have been pure stupidity when there isn’t enough quality players for Rugby Australia to pay. With over 100 Super Rugby caps and 82 internationals under his belt by age 26, that kind of experience is invaluable.
This deal is a win/win for both Hooper and Rugby Australia.
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