Exeter Chiefs have bolstered their attacking options for next season with the acquisition of young fly-half Will Hooley from Aviva Premiership rivals Northampton Saints.
The 21-year-old playmaker has penned terms on a two-year deal at Sandy Park and will provide top quality competition for the No.10 role alongside current incumbents Gareth Steenson and Henry Slade.
Cambridge-born Hooley arrives at Sandy Park having joined the Saints Academy as a 12-year-old. Since then, he has grown in stature at Franklin’s Gardens and worked his way into Jim Mallinder’s first-team squad, where he has made 14 appearances and scored 77 points to date.
Commenting on his move, Hooley said: “I’m really looking forward to the move, I see it as a massive opportunity for me to experience a new club, a new environment and to hopefully be part of something special down at the Chiefs.
“I obviously know quite a few of the young lads, guys like Sam Hill, Jack Nowell and Henry Slade, who I played with at England Under-20s level, and I’ve seen how they have progressed over the last few years and how they’ve all made the most of the chances they’ve been given.
“One of the things I guess that attracted me to Exeter was the fact that Rob [Baxter]and the coaches aren’t afraid to give young players their chance. You can see that if they feel they are good enough to play, then they are old enough to play.”
Hooley has watched from afar as the Chiefs have instilled themselves amongst the top sides in English rugby and the talented playmaker likes what he sees.
“Being at Northampton I know how much they look at the threat the Chiefs pose,” he said. “Teams have huge respect for Exeter and the way they play. They have threats all over the pitch, they have a great squad and the coaching set-up and the facilities down at Sandy Park are first class.
“When you come up against them they are always hard to break down and you never know what’s going to come at you from where. The team you can see is all about a massive work-rate and wanting to play for one another.
“Exeter is also a lot like Northampton in that it’s very much a rugby town. When I came down I got a really strong feeling for the place and how much the Chiefs mean to people in the area. You can see on match-days that the support is very passionate and right behind the team.
However, breaking into the Chiefs ranks will be no easy feat for the newcomer, particularly given the impressive form of both Slade and Steenson this season.
“The challenge will be tough, I’ve talked a lot about Henry and not even mentioned Gareth Steenson, but I know myself that he’s a top quality performer and one of the best No.10s in the Premiership,” continued Hooley. “I think it will be great to work alongside him and learn from him each day, but it’s also down to me to push for a place in the team.”
And helping Hooley to push for a starting role will be coaches Hepher and Hunt, both of whom he has worked with in the past.
“I’ve worked with Ali Hepher and Rob Hunter in the past, so I know about them and they know about me,” he said. “Having had that relationship already with both of them, it will be great to work with them again, as well as all the other coaches down there.”
But as Hooley – who is currently on loan with Championship side Moseley – gears himself up for a new start in the Westcountry, he’s been quick to pay tribute to the club who have given him his big chance within the game.
“I can’t thank the Saints enough,” he continued. “I’ve been at the club since I was 12 and over the last few years especially, I’ve been fortunate to have been given my opportunity within them. It’s an incredible club and I will always be grateful for the chance they gave me.
“The time, though, has come to try something new and moving to Exeter was an opening I felt I couldn’t turn down. Personally, I’d like to thank Jim Mallinder, Dorian West, Alex King and Alan Dickens, all of whom have helped me so much, as well as my team-mates, the staff and, of course, all the supporters who have been brilliant.”