TWELVE years ago Lachlan Hooper was an excited under 7 Bathurst Bulldog who got to play in a curtain raiser to an Australia versus New Zealand Test match, now he's in contention to be a Junior Wallaby.
Hooper, as well as another graduate of Bathurst Bulldogs juniors in Henry Palmer, has been named in the 48-player Junior Wallabies train-on squad.
It's from that squad a team will be selected to play at the 2023 World Rugby Under 20 Championship.
Having coached both Hooper and Palmer as Bulldogs juniors, Shane Cantrill was delighted to see they had both made the squad.
"It's awesome, it's great news for both of them, they've had different pathways," he said.
"Lachie started his junior footy at Bulldogs then went through Stannies and to Barker [College] and he's really developed not only as a footy player, but as a really great kid as well.
"Then Henry came from Sydney up to us and played in our little under 12s, we noticed his speed straight away. He went through Bulldogs juniors then into Stannies then made his way to New Zealand for a couple of years for Year 11 and 12.
"He's doing some uni down in Canberra and went through the Brumbies program."
Hooper began his rugby with Bulldogs early on, progressing through the age groups.
In 2017 he helped create history when being part of the Bulldogs under 13s side which won the club's first junior premiership.
The back rower scored a try as the Bulldogs pups posted a 40-17 win over the previously undefeated Dubbo Kangaroos.
As Cantrill mentioned, Hooper advanced through the ranks of schoolboys rugby while he's played for the under 16 and under 17 NSW Gen Blue teams and this year captained the NSW Academy under 18s.
He's now in the ACT Brumbies Academy, following in the footsteps of older brother Tom who is part of the Brumbies' Super Rugby squad.
At 194 centimetres, he's touted as one of the future stars of Australian rugby.
"Lachie has great work ethic, he comes from a really nice family. It's great when you see what Tommy has done and now Lachie is following in his footsteps as well," Cantrill said.
As for Palmer, who was part of the 2016 Central West side which was named joint under 13 Country Champions, his speed is still a major asset.
He impressed on the wing for the ACT Brumbies in this year's under 19 national championships.
"Henry has just got unbelievable speed, it's something that you can never coach. He's just got natural ability, speed and awareness," Cantrill said.
"I loved him at fullback actually. He had a great awareness and just attacked the blindside really well. I don't if he ever liked it, but he could certainly play at fullback as well as on the wing or in the centres.
"He also went through a stage where he played with some really good kids here that helped his development as well.
"We had a good little team going through that age division and they were also great mates, a lot of them still play with him these days. That helps and defines a child I reckon, it makes them really want to play footy because they're playing with their mates.
"Henry could sniff out a try quite easily, his mates knew that and they would always back him."
Palmer and Hooper will join their fellow Junior Wallabies train-on squad members in February for a camp, with more to follow in the build up to the World Rugby Under 20 Championship.
Cantrill is now crossing his fingers the duo can go on and wear the coveted green and gold jumper.
"They've made that step, now they've got to really work hard for that next stage," he said.
The 2023 edition of the World Rugby Under 20 Championship will feature the Junior Wallabies as well as teams from Argentina, England, Fiji, France, Georgia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, South Africa and Wales.
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