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Trade rejection spurs Hooker to great heights

Essendon's Cale Hooker pressures Jordan Lisle of the Lions during the 2013 AFL round 08 match between the Essendon Bombers and the Brisbane Lions at Etihad Stadium, Melbourne on May 18, 2013. (Photo: Andrew White/AFL Media)
Cale Hooker is settled in Essendon's defence after rejecting a trade to West Coast over the summer
I worked on all areas of my game – my speed, my fitness, my kicking, my marking. I think I've improved in all those areas and I'll keep trying to improve.
Cale Hooker
IT DIDN'T take Cale Hooker long to work out what he wanted to do. That was lucky; he didn't have much time to make up his mind.

The last few days of the AFL's trade period always move quickly and last year Hooker became involved in a potential deal that he hadn't initiated.

He was contracted to Essendon for another season and wanted to stay at the club he had been at for five years and had grown to love.

But with St Kilda making a big play for West Coast defender Mitch Brown, Hooker's name was discussed as a possible replacement, if the Eagles lost their grasp on the contracted Brown.

The deal would have seen the Bombers lose the West Australian but gain a couple of mid-20s draft picks. Hooker had some thinking to do.

"There was an offer from West Coast to go back home, which is always tempting with friends and family there," Hooker told AFL.com.au.

"But I decided I wanted to stay at Essendon. I've got a lot of mates here and I really enjoy playing with the club. I'm glad I made that decision.

"I thought about it and weighed up all the offers. I sort of felt I had unfinished business at Essendon as well this year and so I was really happy to stay. Once you know what your decision is, you just stick with it.

"I backed myself and I think that's the only way to do it."

It was the first signal Hooker was ready to take his game to a new level, ready to earn, fight and hold onto his spot in Essendon's backline. And in the first two months of this season, the 24-year-old has done that.

An uninterrupted pre-season got the ball rolling.

"I had a full pre-season this year with no injuries, where in the past I've probably had a few little niggles," he said.

"It definitely helps. I worked on all areas of my game – my speed, my fitness, my kicking, my marking. I think I've improved in all those areas and I'll keep trying to improve."

Jake Carlisle's emergence has seen Hooker take the opposition's second or third tall forward and the pair have combined to create a strong bond.  

"I'm really confident with how I'm playing," said Hooker, whose Essendon contract finishes at the end of 2013 but hasn't yet moved into negotiations.   

"You can fall into the trap of being reactive as a defender but especially with the way the game's played these days, you've got to be proactive and look to beat your man and create turnovers for your team."

The statistics underline Hooker's value. He is No.1 in the competition for intercept marks with 31, and also tops the league for overall intercept possessions (70), according to Champion Data.

Where Carlisle is the Bombers' new one-on-one star, and Dustin Fletcher is their spoiler and distributor, Hooker plays an overlapping role: he helps out everyone else by jumping across, into, and behind packs and taking marks.

The Bombers have established their own defensive team, which is flourishing by simply spending more time on the ground together.

"You know your teammates, and you're settled together, you know where each other run and how each other play and can feed off each other a bit. Last year having four or five changes every week can make it hard," he said.

Everything didn't go to plan last week against the Brisbane Lions, however, with the club falling to a surprise 10-point defeat.

Hooker said the Bombers didn't take their chances, something they needed to resolve ahead of Saturday night's Dreamtime at the 'G meeting with Richmond.

"A lot of people are trying to think of different reasons but at the end of the day we just weren't good enough against the Lions. We've got to get that out of our system and make sure it doesn't happen again," he said.

"We'll take a few lessons about consistency during the week and taking it into a game. [Hopefully] we'll give ourselves every chance against the Tigers."

Follow AFL website reporter Callum Twomey on Twitter at @AFL_CalTwomey.