SYDNEY – Wallabies captain Michael Hooper has signed up to a "historic" five-year contract that will secure him through to the 2023 Rugby World Cup, Rugby Australia said Friday.
Hooper, a two-time John Eales medal-winner as Australian rugby's best player, was due to be out of contract with Rugby Australia at the end of this year.
The massive deal with the New South Wales Waratahs flanker is worth close to Aus$6 million (US$4.4 million), according to Sydney's Daily Telegraph.
"I never really thought about going elsewhere or entertaining anything like that. I was really keen to stay in Australia, and keep doing what I can for the Wallabies and the Waratahs," Hooper said. "It's a long deal so I have to thank Cheik (Wallabies coach Michael Cheika) and (Rugby Australia chief) Raelene Castle as well as the Waratahs for having the belief in me in that I can continue to contribute."
The 26-year-old is the second Australian player to sign up to a five-year deal after Lote Tuqiri in 2007, although the Fiji-born wing's contract was cancelled two years later over an alleged code of conduct breach.
The deal ensures that Hooper will be available for Australia for the next two World Cups -- in Japan next year and in France in 2023.
"The length of the deal will be talked about but it's fair reward for a player like Michael," Castle said. "He was upfront in signalling that he wanted to commit to Australian Rugby so we couldn't be more pleased to have him remain until at least 2023."
Australians based abroad are generally unable to represent their country, although the eligibility rules were relaxed in 2015 for senior players.
Those who have pulled on a Wallabies jersey more than 60 times and have held a professional contract with Australian rugby for at least seven years can now play abroad and for the national team.
The 82-Test veteran Hooper, who holds the record as the youngest-ever player to reach 100 Super Rugby caps, was the fifth-youngest player to captain the Wallabies when he replaced the injured Stephen Moore against France in 2014.
He was named as the retiring Moore's replacement last year.
"I know Michael can see the huge amount of young talent in the game that is coming through at the moment and I am sure it's a big part of why he would be committing to a long term deal," Cheika said.
The announcement came ahead of the opening Bledisloe Cup clash against the All Blacks next week.
Hooper, who tore his hamstring in the final Test against Ireland in June, is confident he will be fit for the August 18 clash in Sydney after completing a full day's training on Monday with the Test squad.
Agence France-Presse (AFP)