Milestone man Hooper leaving his mark at Werribee

Nick Buykx won’t quickly forget his first encounter with Andrew Hooper.

Playing just his third VFL game, the young defender squared off against the veteran small forward – now a teammate but then still with North Ballarat – when Werribee scraped home against the Roosters on a cold afternoon at Mars Stadium almost exactly a year ago.

“It was a pretty rough day for me,” Buykx recalls.

“He kicked 4.4 on me, so I was pretty flat. He knew I was a first-year player. He ran me and put me to the sword, and I gave away a few free kicks on him.”

But it was what happened next that stands out most vividly for Buykx.

“I was heading home, and he sent me a message saying, ‘Hey mate, I actually thought you did a pretty good job on me today. Here are a couple of pointers going forward.’

“It was out of nowhere. I’d never met the bloke before, but he showed exactly who he was as a person.”

For Buykx, it was an incredibly magnanimous gesture; but Hooper didn’t think twice about taking the opportunity to help out a young player learning the game.

“I just look back on my career and think about being a young bloke and getting the feedback that I did,” Hooper says.

“Yes, he was an opposition player, but it was important for him going forward that year to have a bit of confidence.

“You’re going to have those sorts of days and you’re going to have challenges, so it was about helping him in the way he goes about it and what he can do better against other small forwards.”

On Sunday, Hooper will run out against Footscray – incidentally, the same club where he spent three years in the AFL system – for his 100th VFL game. With the bulk of his state-league career having been played with North Ballarat and Williamstown, it will be just his sixth game in the “big W” of Werribee.

But the fact Hooper is still adapting to the surrounds of Avalon Airport Oval hasn’t stopped him from having an immediate impact on and off the field.

As well as a return of eight goals from his five matches to date, the 27-year-old has embraced the opportunity to take on an unofficial leadership role by mentoring his younger teammates.

“I think it’s important with a young group,” Hooper says.

“I didn’t want to walk into the club and have a leadership role; I just wanted to be that support behind the scenes.

“You don’t have to have that title of being the captain or being in the leadership group, but you need players underneath that who are encouraging that next group of younger guys who are going to be leaders in the future.”

For Buykx, the impact has been enormous.

“I played on him a couple of times in match play, and he was helping out the other forwards, and then I had to work with him when I was swung down there,” says Buykx.

“He’s been there providing little pointers, and to see how hard he’s working and bringing blokes along with him, it’s just unreal.”

With North Ballarat’s VFL tenure having come to an abrupt halt at the end of the 2017 season, Werribee senior coach John Lamont says it’s pleasing the club has been able to afford Hooper the chance to reach triple figures, but he also hopes the milestone is just the beginning of a long and fruitful career in the black and gold for his new recruit.

“We want him to have a great 100th, but I hope there are plenty more games this year and beyond because I think he can continue to play really good football at the level and support the youngsters in our group,” says Lamont.

“We’re really still striving for improved cohesion among our forward group, so we’re really hopeful ‘Hoops’ can help bring all that together.

“After the sad demise of the Roosters, it would have been far easier for him to drop back and play local footy in Ballarat, but he wants to continue playing the best footy he can, so that’s a great thing.”

Hooper and the rest of the Werribee team take on Footscray at 2pm on Sunday at Avalon Airport Oval.

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