George Smith pays tribute to Michael Hooper

By Pete Fairbairn, 27.10.16

Fellow two-time John Eales Medal winner George Smith has praised Michael Hooper, who emulated his achievement this evening.

Speaking with RUPA from Japan, Smith said Hooper’s achievement was quite incredible when it was considered that he only turns 25 this coming Saturday.

“Michael is such a worthy winner of the John Eales Medal,” Smith said. “He has the respect of his fellow players, and he has also earnt the respect of the Australian public through his performances on the field and his character off it.

“I hold Michael in a very high regard when it comes to his football ability. He is a player who consistently performs for both the Waratahs and Wallabies, and he is a star within both of those teams.”

The John Eales Medal, proudly awarded jointly by RUPA and the Australian Rugby Union (ARU), honours the best Wallaby each year. Each Wallaby player in the matchday 23 votes on a 3-2-1 basis, with those votes tallied after each Test match. As has been the case since the first ever John Eales Medal, every vote has been scrutinised by Link Market Services, a long-term partner of RUPA.

Click here to read a full wrap of the 2016 John Eales Medal.

Hooper joins Smith (2002 & 2008), Nathan Sharpe (2007 & 2012) and Israel Folau (2014 & 2015) as the only men to win the Medal twice since its’ inception, and Smith said that despite Hooper’s youth he deserved to be spoken of amongst the finest Wallabies of the modern era.

“I think for Michael to be joining the other two-time John Eales Medal winners is such a fantastic achievement for him at such a young age, and it shows what a great head he has on his shoulders,” Smith said.

“He’s been a consistently outstanding performer at both Super Rugby and Test level for such a long time already, and when you consider the amount of time he still has on his side the achievement is quite incredible. It’s also a nod to his durability; he hasn’t missed a lot of games despite playing in such a combative position, and to be able to back up as well as he has also shows his dedication to his preparation and recovery.

“There’s certainly no limit as to what he might be able to achieve in the years to come, but he has been phenomenal in the few short years that he has played the game professionally. To see him again be voted by his Wallabies teammates, who are the people every player wants to earn recognition from, as the outstanding Wallaby of the season is a wonderful accolade.”

Smith said that his two John Eales Medals, which are among a swathe of individual accolades he has received throughout a professional career that has spanned close to two decades, remain among his most treasured achievements.

“I value my two John Eales Medals incredibly highly,” Smith said. “The recognition from your peers is critical; you want to perform for, and with, the players who you work so hard alongside on the training field when you’re representing your country.

“It is such an honour to represent your country, and to be singled out for recognition alongside the calibre of players who the Wallabies produce is a huge honour for any Australian Rugby player.”

Comparisons between the two openside flankers have been common within Rugby circles for some time, with each graduating from the Manly junior Rugby programs to enjoy considerable and sustained team and individual success in the number seven jersey from an impressively young age.

“There’s a huge amount of talented players from the Northern beaches who come through the system, but in saying that Michael is clearly a special player,” Smith said. “He has shown that through his representation of the Roos all the way through his junior Rugby, and from there to the Brumbies, Waratahs and the Wallabies.

“Michael has the right personality and mentality to be successful at whatever level he’s playing at and in whatever he puts his mind to, and that’s a credit to his parents and how he has been raised.”

Smith will return to Australia in 2017 to play for the Queensland Reds, and will come head to head with his protégé in Super Rugby next year, but for the timebeing he wanted to ensure all the attention was purely on Hooper’s achievement.

“Michael has already earned so many Test and Super Rugby caps, and that shows just how valuable a player he has been in every professional team he has been involved with. He is a special person, and I would like to offer my sincere congratulations to him for being crowned the 2016 John Eales Medallist.”

RUPA Chairman Bruce Hodgkinson SC paid tribute to Hooper and the prestige of the John Eales Medal itself.

“RUPA are immensely proud to be the Co-Presenters of the John Eales Medal, which represents recognition of outstanding achievement by a Wallaby player,” Hodgkinson said.

“The collaboration demonstrated between RUPA and the ARU in coming together to award the John Eales Medal represents an important part of the continuing dialogue between the two organisations, as the players continue, through RUPA, to invest in Rugby, its structures and its future.

“The recognition of Michael Hooper’s outstanding contribution on the field, which sees him win the John Eales Medal for a second time is a fantastic achievement for him. It is an endorsement of good Rugby, and when one considers the elite crowd of only three others he joins in winning the Medal for a second time just days before his 25th birthday, it is a richly deserved honour for Michael.”

RUPA congratulates all of those honoured at the 2016 John Eales Medal.

Full list of Award Winners, 2016 John Eales Medal:

John Eales Medal: Michael Hooper
Wallaby Rookie of the Year: Dane Haylett-Petty
Super Rugby Player of the Year: Sean McMahon (Melbourne Rebels)
Super Rugby Rookie of the Year: Reece Hodge (Melbourne Rebels)
Shawn Mackay Women’s Rugby Sevens Player of the Year: Charlotte Caslick
Shawn Mackay Men’s Rugby Sevens Player of the Year: Ed Jenkins
Buildcorp NRC Player of the Series: Irae Simone (Sydney Rays)
Australian U20’s Player of the Year: Tyrel Lomax
Australia’s Choice Wallaby of the Year: Michael Hooper
Super Rugby Team of the Year: Brumbies
Super Rugby Coach of the Year: Stephen Larkham
Wallaby Try of the Year (most responsible): Drew Mitchell (try scored by Adam Ashley-Cooper)
Super Rugby Try of the Year (most responsible): Nick Frisby (Reds)
Women’s XVs Player of the Year: Ash Hewson
Hall of Fame Inductees:  Jack Ford, Peter Johnson, John Solomon
Volunteer of the Year: Deon Norval
Young Volunteer of the Year: Hayden Croghan
Lifetime Volunteer of the Year: Dougal Whitton
Roger Vanderfield Referee of the Year: Angus Gardner                  
Super Rugby Referee of the Year: Angus Gardner            
Nick Farr Jones Spirit of Rugby Award: Megan & Anthony Elliot                  
Joe French Award: Alec Evans   
Geoff Shaw Community Coach of the Year Award: Kylie Dawson   

Full List of John Eales Medal winners:

2002 – George Smith
2003 – Phil Waugh
2004 – David Lyons
2005 – Jeremy Paul
2006 – Chris Latham
2007 – Nathan Sharpe
2008 – George Smith
2009 – Matt Giteau
2010 – David Pocock
2011 – Kurtley Beale
2012 – Nathan Sharpe
2013 – Michael Hooper
2014 – Israel Folau
2015 – Israel Folau
2016 – Michael Hooper

Pete Fairbairn
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