NSW Waratahs skipper Michael Hooper reckons their Super Rugby hopes will be defined by whether any young players will step up and share the leadership load.
Hooper, the reigning John Eales Medalist, is the team’s sole captain this year following the loss of last year’s co-captain Dave Dennis to Europe.
But it is a job the workhorse Wallaby flanker does not necessarily want to do all on his own – and he’s certain he won’t.
The 25-year-old is expecting big things from his likely back-row partners Jack Dempsey and Jed Holloway, while rookie fullback Andrew Kellaway is part of a new seven-man leadership group.
“We really need those guys to step up and I’ve got a lot of confidence in those guys to do the job,” Hooper said.
“I’m excited to see what they’re bringing and that bracket (of player is) really going to need some leaders to make that transition in their career.
“Jack Dempsey, he’s been very impressive in pre-season, what he’s done around training and on the (Wallabies) tour last year.
“Jed put his stamp on the competition a little bit last year and we’re looking for him to do more.”
Hooper said he had no idea what sort of of team coach Daryl Gibson has planned for Thursday’s final trial against the Highlanders at Brookvale Oval, let alone the season proper, with the Waratahs in the midst of a transition period.
The departures of Dennis and fellow veterans No.8 Wycliff Palu, prop Benn Robinson and hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau have sucked a wealth of experience out of the side.
But there is plenty of faith held in the likes of Holloway, who is coming off a breakthrough Super Rugby campaign, and Dempsey and Kellaway, who were taken on the Wallabies’ European tour last year as development players.
Hooper, who played every minute for the Waratahs last season, said his body is in good enough shape to do it again.
“I want to play every minute, it’s where you have the most fun,” he said.
“You don’t want to be sitting on the sidelines – I’ve done that for the last two weeks already and it sucks. I want to play as much as I can.
“But I’m loving the new challenge and really invigorated by the guys around me.”