Greater Western Sydney have rejected suggestions their impressive young midfielder Jacob Hopper had minimal involvement with their academy before being drafted.
Hopper made an auspicious debut against Gold Coast last Saturday tallying 32 touches and won the weekly Rising Star nomination.
He came into the side for established ball magnet Toby Greene, who was ruled out with soreness, but is available this week, giving the Giants a pleasant selection poser.
The academies in NSW and Queensland have been subjected to sniping from Victoria and especially Collingwood president Eddie McGuire.
Some critics have suggested Hopper spent little time at the academy last year, but Hopper’s school, state and TAC Cup commitments meant he played around 28 games across those levels.
“His 18th year, we did have Jacob up a number of times at the club; he did spend a week training there,” Giants’ academy head coach Jason Saddington told AAP.
“There was also another couple of occasions we got Jacob up. He played a NEAFL game.
“We’d love to have the hands-on, two nights a week training but, with the boys based where they are, we work in as best as we can to make sure it’s the most-suitable program for the kids.”
Saddington said Hopper had been part of the academy program from 13 to 15 when he lived in Leeton in the Riverina and it still had a lot of communication with him when he moved to boarding school in Ballarat.
Hopper said the academy had played a massive role in his development.
“It just really helped build relationships at the football club with coaches and players and staff and Dylan Shiel and Phil Davis would often ring and see how I’m doing,” Hopper said.
Saddington was frustrated by the lack of information being reported about his academy’s work.
“I think maybe a quarter of the amount of what’s actually being done is reported,” Saddington said.
“I feel more for our 50 coaches that we have around the program and our support staff that are involved and even the players and parents, the amount of effort and travel and time that they put into developing kids in these areas.
“And all that gets reported is that we’re not doing much in the region.
“I think for our staff and coaches that are there doing the work that they are not really being recognised for what they do.”
Hopper said it was a great honour to play part of his debut game on Suns’ superstar Gary Ablett.
“There was a a bit of ‘how you’re doing?’ banter, but I probably haven’t earnt the right to say too much yet – I just trying to win my footy,” Hopper said.