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A Debut to Remember

Alison Zell  May 16, 2016 7:40 PM

Hopper's Star Rising Jacob Hopper has been nominated for the 2016 NAB AFL Rising Star after his standout debut performance in round 8 against the Suns.
He loves to tackle and loves to win contested ball and that’s all you can ask from a player coming into the AFL.

Coming up against AFL champion Gary Ablett Jr at his first centre bounce didn’t daunt first-gamer Jacob Hopper whose impressive debut was rewarded with this week’s NAB AFL Rising Star nomination.

Hopper is the round eight nominee after at outstanding debut game against the Suns that included 32 disposals (17 contested), nine clearances, seven inside-50s and five marks.

He also collected 11 of those touches in the first quarter with the pace and enormity of AFL football certainly not overwhelming the 19-year-old.

“It’s pretty nice to be recognised in that way, I absolutely just enjoyed the win and loved every minute of it,” Hopper said on Monday.

POST MATCH: JACOB HOPPER AND HIS DAD

From Leeton in southern NSW, Hopper was selected at pick seven in the 2015 NAB AFL Draft under the Academy selection process.

Hopper captained NSW/ACT in the 2015 NAB AFL Under-18 Championships and was named an Under-18 All Australian and the NSW/ACT MVP. 

He joined the GIANTS Academy in 2010 as a 13-year-old and was the GIANTS' Academy player of the year in 2015.

Hopper was one of four Academy players the GIANTS selected in last year’s draft as he made the move to Sydney with good mate and fellow Academy graduate Matthew Flynn.

After an outstanding pre-season and a spot in the GIANTS’ first NAB Challenge game against the Bulldogs, Hopper was made to earn his AFL debut, plying his trade for the WSU GIANTS in the NEAFL.

"He’s had to earn his stripes in the NEAFL and I was really proud of Jacob who took his opportunity on Saturday,” coach Leon Cameron said.

"He loves to tackle and loves to win contested ball and that’s all you can ask from a player coming into the AFL.

"It was terrific for his family to witness his first game and the club is really pleased he’s received this nomination.”

Hopper was straight into the thick of things, coming onto the ground minutes into the match against the Suns and contesting his first centre bounce at AFL level.

Matched up on Ablett for some of the game, Hopper took it all in his stride.

“Obviously it was a huge honour, I’ve watching him for a couple of years now and have so much respect for the way he goes about it,” Hopper said.

“He’s a superstar of the game … to be able to do that, as honouring as it was I just wanted to crack down and get the job done on him too.”

Hopper wasn’t able to wipe the grin from his face since he learnt of his debut and that extended to pre-match when the youngster was presented with his GIANTS jumper by veteran Ryan Griffen.

“He’s a really good fella and I’ve learnt a lot from him,” Hopper said. 

“I’ve really jumped under his wing. I sent him a text saying how much I appreciated it and how much I loved that it was him that gave me my guernsey and it was a real honour and privilege.” 

WATCH: JACOB HOPPER'S HIGHLIGHTS

With a sparkling debut done and dusted, Hopper is immediately onto the next challenge.

“It was a bit quicker and harder and tougher but I just wanted to soak it up and really just go off all the excitement that it was running out there in front of our members and fans,” he said.

“For me it’s just about doing everything right so I can keep on getting a kick and holding my place and playing my role in the side.”

With the football world watching on as a star was born in the GIANTS’ 91-point win over the Suns, there was a beautiful moment after the game as Hopper ran towards the crowd, jumping up on a table to say hello to his family.

“I wanted to make sure I went and saw Nanna, she raised 13 kids, my dad being one,” he said. 

“It was her first AFL game so I wanted to make sure I got over there and she was super excited. 

“I love her to bits so it was great to share that moment with her.”

Hopper joins a group of AFL stars to receive a Rising Star nomination on debut, including Ollie Wines, Dyson Heppell, Daniel Rich and Marc Murphy.

The GIANTS’ next game is against the Western Bulldogs on Sunday afternoon at Spotless Stadium.