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Michael Hooper hopes to give Benji Marshall rude welcome

Irrepressible: Michael Hooper is aiming for an even better season with the Waratahs this year, starting with stifling Benji Marshall in the trial against the Blues on Friday.

Irrepressible: Michael Hooper is aiming for an even better season with the Waratahs this year, starting with stifling Benji Marshall in the trial against the Blues on Friday. Photo: Brendan Esposito

Waratahs flanker Michael Hooper has lauded Benji Marshall as a “quality” player who he expects will be “pretty dangerous one on one” on-field. But when – or if – he gets the chance in the Waratahs' trial against the Blues at Allianz Stadium at Moore Park on Friday night, the NSW specialist No. 7 will “try and get in his face”.

Like most players in the Waratahs, Hooper is excited about playing against the former Wests Tigers NRL star who last weekend played his first game of rugby since switching codes and signing with the Blues.

And Hooper hopes that in Friday’s trial, when both teams will no doubt change their line-ups throughout the game, he will be on the field at the same time as Marshall, who will play at five-eighth.

Learning the ropes: Benji Marshall takes on the Hurricanes in his debut for the Blues in a trial match on February 1.

Learning the ropes: Benji Marshall takes on the Hurricanes in his debut for the Blues in a trial match on February 1. Photo: Cameron Burnell

“It is a great challenge to come up against Benji,” Hooper said. “He is someone I am sure [who] will bring a lot to union from his code. It is great to play a player of his quality. It’s very exciting for me.

‘‘I am not too sure what ‘Cheik’ [coach Michael Cheika] is thinking with the teams yet. Hopefully, I get to have a go against him. Mate, he is a pretty dangerous person one on one.”

When asked if, as openside flanker, he saw his job as someone to stifle Marshall’s potency in the playmaker’s slot, Hooper said: “It’s tough. Some games you do have that opportunity and some you will barely see a [No.] 10.

‘‘Whether they are running or things like that … Off the scrum there is definitely a good chance to get at the ‘10’ and try and get in his face and pressure his kicks I think more than anything.”

Hooper’s excitement at the start of the season belies his heavy schedule, which last season resulted in him playing 15 Super Rugby games for the Waratahs and 15 Tests with the Wallabies, of which 14 were in the starting side.

Not only did Hooper play a lot, he played a lot exceptionally well as the list of awards that he won last year shows. These included the John Eales Medal, the Australian Super Rugby player of the year, the Castrol EDGE strongest performer of the series from last year’s Rugby Championship, and the Matt Burke Cup for Waratahs player of the year.

Asked how many minutes of rugby he played last year, Hooper just laughed and said: “I have no idea.”

But while he said he was “happy to get a break” after last season, he added that “at the end of the day, it’s great fun playing footy and in different teams, so I was enjoying myself”.

Hooper, in his second year at NSW, believes he has a lot more to improve on in his game, especially when the style of a match changes.

“It’s about improving consistency, so making sure the performance I put out each week is similar or of quality standard against different teams,” Hooper said.

“Every game you come up against different games – whether it is an attacking or defensive game, or [a game] where you win by three or 50 points. [It’s about] adapting [to] the game the best I can.”

As for the Waratahs forward pack, Hooper believes they will step up their physicality a notch from last season. “We have a big forward pack. We need to be physically up-front,” Hooper said.

“Some good combinations are starting to build on top of last year when we had some really good games, [so it is about] managing the consistency and putting out a good performance each week as a pack.

“When we are doing our job well it’s a fun pack to be a part of [with] big boys running. We want to be intimidating teams with our big forwards.”

 

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