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Wallabies: Michael Hooper opens up on rugby’s mental health break

Wallabies third line Michael Hooper has spoken for the first time about the issues that led to his dramatic withdrawal from his side’s Rugby League opener against Argentina earlier this year.

Hooper pulled out of that match in Mendoza less than 48 hours before kick-off and revealed it was not easy to seek help during his absence from rugby to deal with health issues mental.

“As a young man, I viewed asking for help as, I guess, a bit of a weakness. You want to feel like everything worked out and I certainly didn’t,” he told AAP ahead of Australia’s first year-end Test against Scotland on Saturday.

Unwavering support

The 30-year-old, who captained his country a record 64 times in 121 Test appearances, has praised his wife, Kate, for her unwavering support during a difficult time he was trying to cope the pressures of being a new father and his life as a professional rugby player.

“I’ve been playing the game for a long time, I had big changes in my life this year and there were a lot of things going through my mind in Argentina, and Argentina was not the place where I was supposed to settle these things,” he said.

“I wanted to be with the family. I wanted to be somewhere where I could dedicate time to those things that I needed.

“That doesn’t mean I’m sitting here now completely healed. It’s not like that at all. At that time, I needed to be somewhere else. It wasn’t Argentina.

“I know it’s pretty vague but, yeah, I still get it. It wasn’t that long ago.”

Hooper admitted that telling Wallabies head coach Dave Rennie he didn’t want to play was one of the toughest conversations he had during his 10-year Test career.

“I have high expectations of myself and pulling out of a game is definitely up to something I didn’t see myself doing. Of course it was difficult,” he said.

“It happened all of a sudden… the beautiful thing about rugby and the hard thing about any sport is that there’s always the next goal so you can move on to something else and move forward quickly.

“It was probably exacerbated being overseas away from home, but where I’m at, in my career and things like that, you’re starting to look at post-rugby. I have a family now.

“So there are a lot (more) elements now than being 22 and being pretty preoccupied with yourself and I think that played a part.”

Hooper said he’s grateful to live in a time when mental health is a more openly discussed topic.

“I think back to this period and going through it is part of life. It’s part of being human, all of it, a big moment in my life,” he said.

Although he is back with the Wallabies, Hooper will not captain the team on their European tour, but said he was fully behind new skipper James Slipper and winning back the captaincy was not not something that concerned him.

He admitted playing at next year’s Rugby World Cup in France is appealing, although he doesn’t take it for granted as he is just trying to enjoy rugby again.

Savor the return

“I’m excited. I’m thrilled to be back – at this point. I’m also realistic knowing that the last time I was here it didn’t quite work out,” the star flanker said from the openside.

“So I put myself back in this position because I want to be here. I have a lot of support around me and I am realistic that there will be very good days, and days when the realities of travel, rugby and the like will be difficult.

“But I think that’s part of the whole journey. Part of what we do is this whole roller coaster.

READ MORE: Wallabies: George Gregan praises ‘brave’ Michael Hooper for retiring from the game

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