Michael Hooper is starting to feel it.
The creaks, the cracks of joints that never made a noise before, a need to be more cautious with a body that has served him well so far.
Hooper played 2276 minutes out of a possible 2400 of rugby this season, missing Australia’s win over France, rested with a handful of regular starter and a yellow card against Argentinathe only other time he sat on the sideline.
“Just things crack that didn’t crack a couple of years ago. Your knees crack and your shoulders hurt but it’s just rugby,” he says.
“I’m speaking for all of [the] rugby players across the world. It’s a tough game and it’s a demand on your body but one that’s all worth the end result and all worth what a good win with good mates can do for your spirits and your mind.”
At 25, he has 65 Tests, two John Eales Medals and 13 international tries and a stint as the youngest Wallabies captain ever to show for the minutes of rugby he has tallied for the Wallabies and there have been plenty.
Only Bernard Foley featured in more Tests than Hooper in 2016, playing in each of Australia’s 15, but the flyhalf missed the first month of Super Rugby with injury.
It would be too far a bow to draw to say a lighter week was welcomed by Hooper when it came in mid-November, but he admits it’s something he might have to adjust to.
“I love playing as much as possible but sometimes the body doesn’t agree and you’ve got to be able to do the right things around that and I’m starting to learn that, getting a bit older.”
“You just cherish the days that you could just run and back up and train and train and not have any niggles, not have to go to do any physio and things like that.”
The pragmatic Hooper doesn’t spend much time lamenting his situation, though,
“You see why guys like Scott Fardy are so sour,” he jokes.
“They’ve just been toiling, working hard and their knees creak and all these sort of things but he does it he gets up every day and does it because he loves it and wants to contribute most to this outfit and this team.
“It’s guys like that, that you try and look at and go, ‘It can’t be too bad and if he can do it, then a lot of us can’.”
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Hooper has never done things by halves – every Wallabies training session is punctuated by his calls of encouragement or admonishment, when required, a reflection of an enthusiasm that hasn’t wavered.
“I’ve always been competitive in and around training and things like that and it’s [about] wanting to be a part of a successful team,” he says.
“Like so many of the guys here now, and I’m speaking on behalf of most of them, we want to be a part of winning teams.
“There’s only a certain amount of time you can do this, if not much at all.
“You want to do the best you possibly can and do it with a bunch of guys, who you’re trying to build something with and this team is on the track to doing that.”
The Northern Beaches native has always held a competitive hunger, playing a variety of sports with and against older brother Richard.
“I was a younger brother, so my older brother, you always try and beat them don’t you?,” he says.
“I think the opportunity we have growing up in Australia. and I know I loved where I grew up down on the Northern Beaches, there’s so much to do, there’s so [many] fun things to do growing up. You get your hand at a bit of cricket, surf a bit, get in the water, play rugby.
“There’s so much to do that you develop a competitive nature being around this lifestyle.
“I feel pretty lucky that you get given these things in life and get given this opportunity to play rugby for your country.”
He’s had little time to reflect on a remarkable journey thus far but nostalgia isn’t really up Hooper’s alley.
“It’s such a whirlwind when you first come into this fold and this setup and go overseas and travel for half a year,” he says.
“It’s so much fun and there’s so many good things and so many tough times, that it just moves so quick.
“You never really have a chance to look back on seasons and go back and delve into it.
“I’m just glad that I can keep moving forward.”