Hooper goes from 'out of depth' to setting the standard

Michael Hooper will become the youngest player to reach 100 Super Rugby caps when he runs out on Saturday, light years away from a teenager who felt ‘out of his depth’ on debut.

A prodigy and a veteran all wrapped in one, Hooper’s Super Rugby ton will add to a host of accolades that continue to rack up.

He certainly didn’t look out of place when he made his debut for the Brumbies, against the Chiefs, replacing 111-Test flanker George Smith and crossing for a try along the way.

“I felt well out of my depth for quite a while,” he said.

“It’s a tough competition. It is tough, it’s fast, it’s physical.

“It seems like an absolute age ago and (I had) a lot of scars and cuts less but loving it all the same.”

Now one of the most valuable players in Australian rugby, there’s no question about Hooper’s ability, but the 25-year-old said there was no sense of being settled after 31 Brumbies caps and 68 Waratahs.

“You’re always on edge, you’re always wanting to get better and you’re always trying to improve and impress yourself and impress guys who have been around the club before you and worn the jersey,” he said.

“It’s a constant challenge, otherwise you’re just getting beat up for no reason. You always want to compete and do our best.”

NSW defence coach Nathan Grey said Hooper was constantly growing, as a player and a leader, in his first season as sole Waratahs captain.

“He’d be the first to admit he’s still learning as a captain in terms of his management of his players and the relationship with the referees,” he said.

“He’s really growing into that mould.

“He’s a leader that leads by example and he’s sort of getting that balance right now but also encouraging the other senior players in the team to follow his lead.”

His century has a poetic nature to it, coming against his former team, the Brumbies, in the sides’ sole matchup for 2017.

“If years gone by is anything to go by, (they’ve) been really tough games, low scoring physical affairs,” he said.

“It’s going to be a bit more of the same – a good challenge back home off the back of a tough trip.

“They’re not too dissimilar from SA outfit. It’ll be a bit more of the same (after) the past two weeks, which we’ve struggled with.

“We know they love playing the Waratahs so it’s going to be a really tough hit-out.”

Asked about his milestone, Hooper deflected any honour to his teammate Sekope Kepu, who will notch his 100th NSW cap.

“It’s a nice milestone I guess (but) the bigger one is Keps’ 100th this week,” he said.

“It’s not something he’ll want talked about too much but he is a great man for the club, a great man outside rugby as well.”

Hooper, Kepu and Nick Phipps will all reach 100 Super Rugby caps this weekend against the Brumbies.