For all the external talk of the GIANTS having a midfield bursting with talent, only one on-baller has finished in the top five of its best and fairest in both of the past two seasons – Jacob Hopper.
The tough inside mid was even close to winning the 2019 award, with Tim Taranto only just claiming the high scoring count with 222 votes to Hopper’s 218.
The GIANTS players clearly hold the 24-year-old in high regard too, voting him into the leadership group for the first time at the start of this year.
Yet while Hopper is now one of the most consistent and reliable parts of the GIANTS set up, he seems to be equally good at flying under the radar.
Refreshingly, the No.7 pick in the 2015 NAB AFL Draft admits to being aware of the noticeable lack of ‘Hopper hype’.
“It probably helps to carry a bit of a chip on your shoulder. I think it’s great to have that,” Hopper told AFL.com.au.
“But internally I know where my value is and where I sit, and I’m comfortable with that.”
Opposition clubs seem to appreciate the important role Hopper plays for the GIANTS, and pay the Academy graduate plenty of respect… and then a little bit more.
“As I’ve gone through the years, there has definitely been some more attention,” Hopper said. “I feel like it’s a bit of a compliment.
“You can’t just fly by and do what you want, you have to adapt to what the game is giving you and what the opposition is giving you as well.”
Saints co-captain Jack Steele certainly gave Hopper some special attention early in the third term last Sunday, slamming his former teammate to the ground in a bone-crunching tackle.
“It was a good hit. I left myself pretty exposed, so presented the opportunity for someone to come and snap me in half,” Hopper said.
“That’s the part of the game I love, that extra bit of fire. You’ve just got to be able to bounce up from those ones and carry on.
“I’m not sure it was a free kick, but I’ll take them when I get them.”
GIANTS coach Leon Cameron was confident Hopper would quickly shake off the tackle, which he did on his way to a 28-possession, one goal display that had him firmly in the Giants’ best players.
“He’s a ball player, but he hands out a fair bit of what he gets as well,” Cameron said.
“He likes to get in amongst it, he likes the physical side of the game.”
As a leader at the club, Hopper has been working closely with another ball-winning bull, Tom Green, as well as the most recent draftees including Tanner Bruhn.
“The great thing about putting him in the leadership group is that he wanted it, and he’s earned the right to be in there,” Cameron said.
“He clearly wants to support and challenge players through the whole team to get better.”
Hopper’s current contract with the GIANTS finishes at the end of this year, but he expects the club and his management to work through a new deal.
“I know it’s a stock standard answer, but my focus is on playing footy, putting my best foot forward this year, and putting us in a position where we win games of footy,” he said.
That’s the sort of attitude that Hopper’s game is built on, even if it’s not the sort of answer that will help build the ‘Hopper hype’.