GWS Giant Jacob Hopper burst onto the scene unlike many before him and had the footy world buzzing with his 32 disposals on debut.
But teammate and midfield mentor Ryan Griffen wasn’t as shocked by Hopper’s performance.
The Round 8 Rising Star’s debut was described as “something out of the box” by Fox Footy commentator and former Hawthorn champion Jason Dunstall, but Griffen thinks Hopper’s 17 contested possessions – the most recorded by a debutant – and nine clearances was not astonishing given his attitude on the training track.
“I wasn’t surprised by how well he played to be honest because the way he trains shows he is something special. He has a lot of talent but he adds the hard work with it which is pretty lethal – If you have both of those aspects, you’re going to have a pretty good output,” Griffen tells Aflplayers.com.au.
“he has this aura about him and has a lot of confidence within himself”
– Ryan Griffen on Jacob Hopper
“Last year he spent a few weeks with us through the academy system and he played a few NEAFL games but it was after he got drafted when he made a really strong imprint.
“I was pretty impressed early on with the way he goes about his footy and you wouldn’t think he’s in his first year. You can tell he is going to have a long career.
“He always trains at 100 percent which definitely makes him standout. He’s a coach’s dream really.”
Taken with the seventh pick in last year’s draft, Hopper was close to a senior debut in the early stages of the season before an accident when diving into, unbeknownst to him, a shallow pool caused some facial damage and forced the youngster onto the sidelines for a couple of weeks.
Despite the hiccup, Hopper slotted seamlessly into the Giants line-up, replacing Toby Greene who pulled up sore from the club’s Round 7 win against Fremantle.
After captivating the footy community at Spotless Stadium, the bullocking midfielder’s qualities aren’t solely limited to the playing field, according to Griffen.
“He’s a really good person, he has great values and comes from a strong family. He’s someone who you really respect straight away.
“His best trait from my perspective is that he’s down to earth. He’s just a good country kid that is willing to work hard and is really driven.
“He’s not outspoken in any way but he has this aura about him and has a lot of confidence within himself. He can have a joke with you and muck around off the field but when he’s training he is really serious. He’s good to have a laugh with and be a normal kid when the footy boots are off.”
And every quality player needs a quality nickname, something which Hopper hasn’t quite received from his teammates just yet.
Griffen says he’s working for one a bit more unique than the more logical choice the players are running with at the moment, but has had little success.
“I’ve nicknamed him ‘Buzz’ because I reckon he looks like Buzz Lightyear. It hasn’t stuck yet, the boys just call him ‘Hopps’ which is pretty original, so I’m going with Buzz Lightyear.
“I don’t think he likes it too much though.”
Hopper is the Giants’ 15th Rising Star nomination since entering the competition in 2012 but the club is yet to register a winner of the award.
Hopper is also the competition’s 514th nominee since the award’s inception in 1993 and joins the likes of Peter Everitt, Chris Judd and David Zaharakis as the 25th player to be nominated on debut – 4.86 percent of players nominated received the gong from their first AFL match.
Total club Rising Star nominations:
- Melbourne – 38
- Essendon – 37
- West Coast – 35
- Collingwood – 34
- Brisbane Lions – 34
- Western Bulldogs – 34
- Hawthorn – 33
- Richmond – 32
- Geelong – 29
- Fremantle – 28
- Carlton – 28
- Port Adelaide – 27
- Adelaide – 26
- St Kilda – 24
- Sydney – 24
- North Melbourne – 23
- GWS Giants – 15
- Gold Coast – 11
- Fitzroy – 6
- Brisbane Bears – 5