Jacob Hopper poses for a photo during Richmond's team photo day on February 21, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

LAST year wasn't what Jacob Hopper envisaged when he moved to Punt Road. First it was another knee issue. Then it was a calf strain, followed by the concussion on the Friday night stage. Not much went right amid a changing of the guard at Richmond.

The plan was to make an instant impact, especially after moving from Greater Western Sydney in a deal that cost the Tigers a future first-round pick. Tim Taranto was able to do that, winning the Jack Dyer Medal after also moving from the Giants, but Hopper was forced to deal with persistent injury headaches for the second straight year. 

Hopper ended up playing 16 games in 2023 but was sidelined on three different occasions, carrying a lingering Achilles injury across the winter, which prevented him from training much between games. Recover, play, repeat.

It has been more than two years since Hopper established himself as a star midfielder when he was named in the 2021 All-Australian squad and finished third in the Kevin Sheedy Medal, before managing only seven appearances in 2022 due to multiple knee operations. 

But now ahead of his second season at the Swinburne Centre, the 27-year-old has banked a six-month block since the end of last season that should lay the foundations for Hopper to return to his best across the next six months. 

"Last year was incredibly frustrating, especially when you move clubs. All your intents and purposes are trying to make it as great as it could possibly be. There were some real frustrations with the body. To come off a year of not really playing much [in 2022] and then launching into the work created some different issues as well," Hopper told AFL.com.au at the Swinburne Centre this week.

Jacob Hopper is pictured with ice on his calf during Richmond's clash against Geelong in round nine, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

"I had a lot of tendinitis issues with my Achilles, which was a nightmare, such a pain in the arse to manage. You can't do the work you want and you are always thinking of it. It was what it was. Then the calf strain was a pretty significant one. I think part of it was with missing so much footy the year before and naturally you lose some conditioning. 

"Part of the challenge when you come to a big club and everyone expects so much is the noise can be pretty noisy. As hard as it can be sometimes, you just have to trust what's inside the building.

"It has felt refreshing and nice to have a good off-season – I think good off-seasons can really set you up for good pre-seasons and then good pre-seasons obviously set you up for good seasons – so it was good to come in for pre-season and feel like I had a lot of work under my belt and be able to do a lot more this pre-season."

Hopper left for Queenstown straight after the best and fairest with his partner, Liv Pellegrino, and then travelled from New Zealand to the United States with former teammates Josh Kelly and Adam Kennedy, stopping in Los Angeles, Austin and New York. 

Jacob Hopper handballs during Richmond's match simulation against Melbourne on February 18, 2024. Picture: Getty Images

Under the direction of Richmond's physical performance manager Luke Meehan, veteran physiotherapist Andrew Schache and rehab coordinator Marcus Krygger, Hopper has dotted his i's and crossed his t's to bulletproof his body ahead of a 2024 campaign that starts on the Gold Coast on Saturday.   

Part of his spring and summer program involved Pilates classes at a Brighton studio, where Richmond great Trent Cotchin is a director.  

"I think it is important to find new things. Pilates is something that I've got really into. To be able to go in there and really sweat as well, because it's in the heat, that was good to go and do some of that finer work that can be mundane and boring," Hopper said.

"I've done a lot of treatment and really focused on the gym. I think I know I'm going to get to work out here in the more obvious footy places, but I think in those spaces like the gym or the Pilates room.

"I've worked really closely with the high performance guys at the club that have put together a program that will hold me in the best stead. I committed to that process from the moment last season finished to make sure I've been on top of my body so I could hit the ground running at the start of pre-season. to see how much those guys care as well, is special."

Jacob Hopper is tackled during Richmond's clash against West Coast in round 18, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

For Hopper, this year isn't about proving anything to anyone other than himself. Making a big-money, long-term move was always going to attract forensic examination. Just ask Taranto. Even he copped more than his fair share, despite producing a career-best season that resulted in 19 Brownlow votes.

"I don't have a point to prove to anyone else, it's more to myself; I want to contribute in ways that I know I can. Regardless of what anyone else thinks or says, I want to be part of something special here. I feel like I can," he said.

"At the end of the day you want to let your footy do the talking, but I feel really good and feel like I'm well and truly ahead of where I was at this time last year, which creates its own confidence. No doubt there is still that element of wanting to prove it to yourself and to everyone else.

"I feel genuinely excited to start the season and play the footy I know I can play personally and as a group as well. As a group, we certainty didn't have the year we anticipated. The feeling around the group is different, but it does feel like we are ready for it. We are ready."

Hopper left Greater Western Sydney after it finished 16th and went from Leon Cameron to Mark McVeigh, before eventually hiring Adam Kingsley. He thought he was arriving to play under Damien Hardwick for most, if not all, of his contract. But that changed in May. 


The Riverina region product, who boarded at St Patrick's College Ballarat, doesn't waste time dwelling on the past. He has built a strong connection with new senior coach Adem Yze across the pre-season and is confident in the direction of the club.

"He is the sort of guy who you meet him for the first time and you feel like you've known him for ages. He is quite personable, connects on a really deep level and you feel that on a daily basis, just because he is so approachable," he said. 

"I've really enjoyed just knowing that he is my coach and is going to be my coach going forward. It is something I haven't been able to tap into for the last couple of years because of so much change, so much movement. 

"To be like this is my guy for the next whatever [period of time], I'm loving that relationship and being able to lean in. He allows for it to be collaborative out there, which feels so natural and organic."

After two years of injuries, Hopper is ready to get back to work this weekend, after getting the work done this summer.