Hooper a code hopper talent
FORMER AFL player Rhan Hooper is considering a shot at an NRL career after making a surprise sporting return in the Ipswich Rugby League.
The 24-year-old has played two Reserve grade games for IRL frontrunners Norths after walking away from a lucrative AFL contract with Hawthorn in 2010.
Speaking exclusively to the QT, Hooper said he lost his passion for football after a series of injury-interrupted AFL seasons.
However, after a year without sport, he was keen to reinvent himself in a different code.
Known as a lightning-quick small forward with tough tackling skills during his AFL career, the talented indigenous athlete has the raw talent to become the first AFL to NRL cross-code player.
Hooper will play out the season with Norths before accepting an offer to join the Ipswich Jets in 2013.
"I just wanted to get these first couple of games in with Norths and then take it a bit further," Hooper said following his Reserve grade match against Fassifern.
"Now I'd like to start to get a bit more serious again.
"I'm hoping to get some good footy in and sneak into A-grade in the second half of the year.
"I might have a crack at training with the Jets."
Jets co-coach Shane Walker backed Hooper to make a successful switch, admitting he and brother Ben first spoke to him late last year.
Walker said Hooper could easily make the grade at Q-Cup level and backed him to go further if his motivation was a code switch.
"I've spoken to Leigh Matthews about him and Leigh gave me a glowing endorsement of his athletic ability," Walker said.
"We'd welcome any opportunity to bring him into the Jets fold.
"You've seen what Karmichael Hunt and Israel Folau have been able to do in AFL. Rhan Hooper, with his talent, would be no different. You could draw parity between their league talent and Rhan's AFL talent.
"There's no reason why he couldn't cross codes and do a similar job to what those boys have done."
While his football talent has rarely been questioned, Hooper's capacity to deal with the requirements of elite sport eventually led to the premature end of his AFL career.
He admitted he needed time away from the game to decide what was important to him.
"After Hawthorn, I kept to myself," he said.
"I originally signed with Broadbeach Cats but they wanted that full commitment as well.
"I just wanted to be able to go to training two times a week and find my love again for footy."
A father and working a full-time job with building materials manufacturer James Hardie, Hooper is set for a challenge of a different kind in rugby league.
With Hooper having played league for three years at high school in Ipswich and a focus on cultural awareness at the Jets, Walker believes the code swap will be a success.
"We've got a good indigenous program going," Walker said.
"It's something we're pretty proud of at the Jets and Rhan would thrive under our system."
Hooper will continue his comeback when IRL fixtures resume next weekend.
Rhan Hooper: "I just wanted to get these first couple of games in with Norths . . . now I'd like to start to get a bit more serious again."
Jets coach Shane Walker: "There's no reason why he couldn't cross codes and do a similar job to Karmichael Hunt and Israel Folau."