Hooper searches for new talent

FOR someone who often keeps a low profile, Ipswich product Rhan Hooper surprisingly accepts being a role model.

The electrifying sportsman has tackled some personal problems and been suspended in the past for contract breaches with the Brisbane Lions.

However, the immensely talented player showed at Limestone Park on Saturday that he can inspire and encourage a new generation of Aussie rules players.

On a rare weekend off from his usual Lions training and playing commitments, Hooper happily chatted to players and supporters during Saturday's AFLSA Division 2 games at Mark Marsh Oval.

He also displayed a keenness to help kids benefit from playing Aussie rules.

“I try and organise with the Lions and AFL Queensland to get my appearances out here,” Brassall-based Hooper said. “Like a role model sort of thing.

“Obviously with Ipswich being a stronghold of rugby league, I'm trying to turn a few into AFL players.”

Recruited by the Lions from Ipswich in 2006, Hooper is a current example how young regional footballers can reach the lofty heights of the AFL.

He joined the Ipswich Cats when he arrived in the city from Melbourne, quickly establishing his credentials in senior football with the Ipswich Eagles.

Four years after making his AFL debut, 20-year-old Hooper is on the search for more talent.

One player Hooper is encouraging is his cousin Billy North, who played nearly a full game of senior football on Saturday.

Although yet to turn 15, Billy  was heavily involved in Ipswich's 14 goal victory over Logan City.

Hooper can relate to Billy's progress, having travelled a similar path at an early age with the Ipswich Cats and Eagles.

“I saw him when he was playing under 10s down here,” Hooper said of Billy.

“Now actually watching him play seniors, it's pretty different but he's come along well.

“He got a scholarship from Ippy Boys Grammar and he's starting to fill out now. They've got him on a good diet and he's looking good.”

Hooper said it was important for promising youngsters to be recognised.

“It's really good to see selectors come in here (places like Ipswich) now,” he said.

“We've had a really strong hold with a couple of boys from ages 12-18 getting selected for the Taipans teams and stuff like that.

“AFL is actually starting to get really big out here.”

During the halftime break in Saturday's main game, Hooper even grabbed a footy and kicked it to some youngsters.

It was no Gabba or Melbourne Cricket Ground, but the kids catching the ball at Limestone Park were thrilled to be with Hooper, a player they might one day emulate.

Hooper said he appreciated the Ipswich support he received during matches at the Gabba.

“Actually, I've seen a fair few people come and you can actually hear them from the crowd when you do a warm-up for the game,” Hooper said. “It's good.”

Despite being troubled by injury this season, Hooper said the Lions continued to support him.

“I'm loving it down there. It's going good,” he said.

“It's been really good under Vossy (new coach Michael Voss).

“He's found a different way, a professional way, about how the boys are performing.”

Hooper said Voss continued to stamp his leadership qualities on the side.

“I was lucky. I got to play with Vossy in my first year, which was his last year (as a player),” Hooper said.

“Just to have his presence around and watching him when he first started, he's one of the footy players I take my hat off to. He was the best at what he did.

“Having him as a coach and also playing with him is probably the best thing in the game.”

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