JACOB Hopper has good reason to never lay another smother in his footballing life.
The Greater Western Sydney star, who has enjoyed a career-best season in 2021, has rocketed into the Therabody AFL All-Australian squad with a see-ball, get-ball approach.
But his full-body diving smother attempt on Port Adelaide's Karl Amon in round 20 saw the Giants gun miss the ball and be accidentally kicked in the face by the Power wingman.
He was concussed, taken from the field on a stretcher, sent to hospital and missed the following week's game under the AFL's head knock protocols.
But while he admits the incident gives him reason to pause on the field, it hasn't changed his aggressive, physical approach.
"Subconsciously [the thought about that smother] definitely exists, I'd be lying if I said it didn't. But the beauty of footy is you can work on your craft and do things and learn as quickly as you can," he told AFL.com.au this week.
"Obviously I won't be trying to smother a footy with my head again, that's probably the learning from it. But it's actually something we do practice a bit. It was a really unlucky thing and you hope you don't put yourself in that position every time when you go to smother."
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Hopper will again be at the coalface as the Giants take on Sydney in Saturday's elimination final, in the third finals clash between the New South Wales rivals. His week out with concussion was the only game he has missed in a stellar season, and the sickening moment did come with concerns.
"The week after wasn't great and I really had to rest and look after myself. I had to get my nose straightened a little bit, there was a fairly significant cut on my lip as well and then the headaches were pretty serious as well. It was my first big one like that," he said.
"I had to watch it so I could gather what had happened because I didn't really know what was going on until I got into the ambulance. I watched it to make sure I knew what happened and then the protocols are super important because it is so serious and everyone's becoming more acutely aware of that and people's experiences they're going through."
Hopper didn't miss a beat upon returning, nor has he all season in a year that is likely to see him claim the Giants' best and fairest. The out-of-contract midfielder ranks second at the Giants for disposals (behind Tim Taranto) but first in contested disposals, clearances and centre clearances.
His has been an ascent built on an "honest reflection" at the end of last season, which didn't go to plan for the 24-year-old nor the Giants.
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"I was really disappointed with my individual performance and also how we went as a team. It was my first year being in the competition not playing finals so that really sucked," he said.
"I got to work in the pre-season figuring out ways to be more damaging with the footy. I feel like I could always find the footy but just different ways to really impact the game and be a really major influence on games and help us win games of footy."
The Giants' turnaround after last season wasn't immediate, though. They started the season with three consecutive losses, but won four of their last five games of the season to seal a top-eight berth and a knockout final with the Swans in Tasmania.
After last year's "reality check", Hopper said the Giants head into the finals with full confidence they can make an impact.
"It feels like one of those seasons where anyone at their best is capable. Our belief is definitely there. We know that our best is capable of giving it a red-hot crack and going as far as possible. We know we've got a huge challenge this week though against the Swans," he said.
"We know what we're up against and we know we can't look past this week until when and if we get the job done. We just wanted to give ourselves a chance, which we've done now, and now we feel like it's anyone's game."