Gun Hawthorn midfielder James Worpel hasn’t ruled out fellow former Geelong Falcon Cooper Stephens making his debut for the club in the Round 1 clash with Essendon.
With question marks over whether reigning best-and-fairest Will Day will be ready to take on the Bombers after suffering a stress fracture in his foot, the door may open for the Colac product.
“He’s really a good clearance player, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he sneaks his way into the Round 1 team,” Worpel said following a gruelling training session at Deakin University’s Waurn Ponds training facility this (Monday) morning.
“We know what he brings. He can play up forward and kick goals.
“He had some really strong VFL performances last year.”
Stephens, who was rookie listed by the Hawks in November after being delisted following his first season, has had little luck since being drafted with pick 16 by Geelong at the end of 2019.
The 23-year-old made seven senior appearances for the Cats in 2022 before being traded at the end of that year in a deal that helped Geelong land Ollie Henry from Collingwood and sent Tom Mitchell from the Magpies to Hawthorn.
However, Stephens could not break into the Hawks’ lineup last year despite averaging close to 19 disposals at VFL level for Box Hill, who reached a preliminary final before losing to eventual premier Gold Coast.
“I remember Sam (Mitchell) asked me a bit about him before we got him across from Geelong and asked what he’s like,” Worpel recalled.
“I said, ‘Yep, he’s a hard worker; he does his job, and we’d love to have him if we got him’.”
After managing just 11 games the previous season, Worpel bounced back to play every match last year and post a top-four finish in the Peter Crimmins Medal – an award he won in 2019.
The Bannockburn junior will again be crucial in the midfield as Hawthorn looks to climb out of the lower reaches of the AFL ladder.
The Hawks have finished no higher than 13th in the past four seasons.
“I think we’ve got core in there now with me, Jai (Newcombe), ‘Nashy’ (Conor Nash) and ‘Daisy’ (Day),” Worpel said.
Following this morning’s session, the Hawks headed to Torquay, where they will do a beach recovery session before training at McCartney Oval tomorrow morning.
“It’s bittersweet for me,” Worpel said. “I love coming home, but we’re in a bit of enemy territory.
“We’re down here for a couple of days enjoying Torquay and enjoying the sun.”