WHAT could make someone relish gruelling pre-season fitness challenges when the temperature is nudging 30 degrees? How about an endorsement from Australian rugby union royalty?
Well that is exactly what Bathurst rugby talent Tom Hooper has gotten.
Though the lock only made his first Super Rugby run-on start for the ACT Brumbies this season, head coach Stephen Larkham can see Hooper's potential as a leader.
That's the same Larkham who earned 102 Wallabies caps and famously kicked a 48 metre, extra-time drop goal to sink South Africa in the 1999 Rugby World Cup semi-final.
That's the same Larkham who played 116 times for the Brumbies and won two Super Rugby titles.
With the Brumbies' current contracted Wallabies away, Larkham has looked to players such as Hooper to help lead pre-season team sessions and guide the younger members of the squad.
"I've changed a few guys out of the leadership group to give some others a bit of an experience," Larkham said.
"From a leadership perspective, we've got a real project over this period to get them experience leading the team day to day, so we're rotating through and we'll continue that until Christmas."
Given Hooper was not that long ago one of the youngsters training with the Brumbies' Super Rugby squad for the first time, it's a role he is enjoying.
"It definitely does feel different, I've undertaken a sort of senior role. Obviously I'm still young in age, but a majority of our squad is away with the Wallabies, so there are not that many guys here to lead the younger guys," he said.
"We're easing all the young guys into it, we're teaching them our foundational stuff on the field, a few of our set pieces and being around them off the field and making sure they are at home.
"I've been warning all the young guys that it's going to get harder, they're all looking at me and saying 'I don't think it can get much harder', I told them that it can.
"The next four weeks is where we really ramp it up physically and try and get the best out of our bodies so he [Larkham] can move us around like the chess pieces that we are."
The younger players, who include Brumbies Academy talents like Hooper's brother Lachlan, are already impressing.
Though most are unlikely to make their Super Rugby debuts in the 2023 season, Hooper says it bodes well for the Brumbies' future.
"We're just continuing to develop young talent and we've got one of the best EDS [elite development squad] crops that I've probably seen," he said.
"Those development players are just outside that top 35, so it really builds our depth and I think there's really exciting times ahead."
As for Hooper himself, he's hoping for more exciting times too.
In season 2022 he not only earned a spot in the Brumbies' starting XV, he got to experience playing in the Super Rugby Pacific semi-finals.
He picked up the Shawn Mackay Award for most outstanding young talent and the members' choice player of the year.
"Our Pacific Super Rugby squad is looking really good, there's a bit of depth in that with a lot of Wallabies and other players who will look to step up during the year," he said.
"Hopefully we can go two better, make the grand final and win it."
The Brumbies will play their season-opener against the NSW Waratahs on February 24.
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