THE Hooper surname has long been synonymous with success on the rugby league field, especially on the South Coast.
Now 19-year-old Sam is the latest Warilla-Lake South product to stake his claim at being a professional rugby league player, after recently penning a deal with the Canberra Raiders Jersey Flegg side.
Negotiations between the talented half and the Green Machine started during the 2019 Group Seven Rugby League season, and after Hooper helped guide the Gorillas to the under 18s premiership, he put pen to paper.
"During last season with Warilla, I started talking with Canberra and following the season, I signed a two-year deal with the club," Hooper, who was named Group Seven Bill James Under 18s Player of the Year in 2019, said.
After moving to the nation's capital in November, the Lake Illawarra High School alumnus, who last season helped Ben Linde's Illawarra Steelers end a 23-year SG Ball drought, has been ripping into pre-season training with the Raiders.
"Training has definitely been different, in a good way," he said.
"The sessions are very tough and professional.
"They were very challenging on my body at the start and it took me a week or two to get used to it.
"But I've settled in well now and am really making the most of it."
As well as the training sessions, the Group Seven junior has had to make other adjustments.
"Being away from home and my loved ones have been a big adjustment," Hooper, the son of Gorillas legend Greg, said.
"On top of that, the training times and schedule took some getting used to.
"Waking up at 5am for a 6am start to training, before going to work was tough at the start.
"Especially as I then headed back to training straight after work, before finally finishing at 7pm - but I'm starting to see all the benefits from the busy schedule."
The biggest improvement Hooper has seen in his game has been in his fundamental skills.
"My fundamental skills have improved a lot - the Raiders are very big on developing that area of our games," he said.
"Also all aspects of my kicking game have improved too.
"In saying that, there's always a lot of room for improvement in all areas of the game, but one facet I'd like to improve is my defence - which has a lot to do with getting my body as big and as fit as possible."
With close to three months of pre-season training now under his belt, Hooper is concentrating on locking down a starting spot for the club's opening under 20s fixture with Canterbury-Bankstown at Belmore Sports Ground on Saturday, March 21.
"It would be a massive achievement for me to be named in the team for our first game," he said.
"Making that team would be a good kick start for the season.
"After that, my biggest goal for 2020 would be to win the premiership with the Raiders.
"If all goes to plan and I continue to improve, I'd also love the opportunity to train with the NRL squad by the end of the season - but I'm just going to take each day as it comes."