After a number of promising games in his 2016 debut season, Jacob Hopper was among the pre-season favourites for the 2017 Rising Star award, but has continued to be plagued by various injuries that have restricted his output
Hailing from Leeton in NSW, the inside midfielder was part of the GWS Giants Academy, playing for the North Ballarat Rebels in the TAC Cup. Hopper starred as captain of the NSW/ACT side in the 2015 Under 18 Championships to be selected as an All-Australian, and as a result, GWS matched Gold Coast’s bid for him in the 2015 National Draft where he was taken at pick 7.
Hopper’s debut against Gold Coast in Round 8 last season set tongues wagging, with an influential 32 disposal effort earning him a Rising Star nomination and plenty of admirers. He played the next six games before a stress fracture in his lower back sidelined him for seven weeks. Hopper returned to the GWS side in Round 22, and held his spot for the Giants’ two finals.
With 10 games to his name at an average of 17 disposals, three marks and three tackles, Hopper had looked set for a big 2017. Even off-season surgery to correct a heart condition couldn’t stop the youngster, as he bounced back to be named in Round 2. A 23-disposal game against Port Adelaide in Round 4 was followed by an efficient 16 possession, 8 tackle match against Sydney the week after, and Hopper looked to have hit his straps.
Unfortunately, a fractured finger in Round 7 disrupted his 2017 campaign, with an ankle injury following soon after, with Hopper expected to resume playing again in the next fortnight.
Despite only having 16 career games under his belt, young Giant has made a big impression already. His tough inside stoppage work and ability to win clearances has stood out, and his running capabilities allow him to push forward and send the ball inside attacking 50 regularly. The 20-year old will be a star in the coming years if he can stay fit, and this is why he is a highly sought-after free agent at present.
WHY HE STAYS
The Giants took Hopper with their first pick in the 2015 National Draft for a reason, and will be determined to keep him after two years of development. Coach Leon Cameron has been outspoken with his praise for the midfielder, saying that he rates him highly, and that has shown at the selection table whenever Hopper has been available. Hopper himself is said to have indicated that he would prefer to stay on at the Giants.
With GWS on the rise and likely to contend for flags for years to come, and team mates such as Josh Kelly and Devon Smith rumoured to be interested in returning to Victoria, the Giants should be able to table a suitable offer to ensure that Hopper remains a key member of their midfield group in the coming seasons.
The recent departures of young midfielders Jack Steele and Jake Barrett also mean that Hopper has a strong chance to cement his spot as one of the club’s premium midfielders, alongside such talent as Dylan Shiel and Stephen Coniglio. Losing Adam Treloar to Collingwood hurt the Giants, and if Kelly or Smith leave, they’ll be desperate to retain Hopper’s services.
WHY HE GOES
A number of clubs have been linked with the future star, with Geelong and Carlton both reported to be interested. While the Cats would need to find something to offer up in return, the Blues have a strong history of dealing with GWS, and always seem to find a way to bring their targets to Ikon Park, with eight former Giants now in Carlton jumpers. Geelong are in a premiership window, with the opportunity to play alongside Patrick Dangerfield and Joel Selwood an appealing one. Carlton are a young club on the rise, and Hopper would walk into their best 22 to play alongside former team mates on what would likely be a higher salary than he’d receive at his current club.
The Giants’ salary cap could push Hopper out, with Kelly and Smith likely to be the top signing priorities, the former expected to command a hefty price after his swift rise to stardom. Previous seasons have seen the Giants unable to retain all of their top end talent, which has been the only unfortunate by-product of the sheer amount of high picks allocated prior to and since the club’s inception in 2012.
Ryan Burton #6
Hawthorn defender Burton was to be our Number 6 on the Most Wanted list, but in the past week it was announced that the 20-year old had re-signed with the club for two more seasons.
Selected at pick 19 in the 2015 National Draft, many believe that Burton would have been a much earlier selection had a serious leg injury not cruelled his draft year. The young defender has been a revelation this season, playing 15 games with an average of 21 disposals, three tackles and just under six marks per match.
The Hawk’s intercept marking and rebound 50 statistics are backed up by his ability to send the ball inside attacking 50, with Burton now favourite for the 2017 Rising Star award.