Essendon coach Ben Rutten says Cale Hooker is no certainty to be at the AFL club next year despite the versatile veteran leading the Bombers’ goal-kicking this season.
Turning 33 in October, Hooker is out of contract at the end of 2021 and will qualify for unrestricted free agency.
The 218-game stalwart has been a crucial part of the Bombers’ surge to finals contention during Rutten’s first season as head coach.
Hooker has kicked 32.22 from 17 games – tied for most goals with Bombers small forward Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti (32.13).
He has also been valuable in nurturing emerging forward Harrison Jones and providing support for off-season recruit Peter Wright.
“There’s probably not certainty about it just yet, but there’s certainly been good conversation and good dialogue with Cale throughout the whole year, as I (have) with a lot of players,” Rutten said.
“I think Cale’s been playing a really important role for us throughout this season.
“He’s had some inexperienced guys in and around him and I think his impact and his ability to allow Jonesy to do what he’s been able to do this year, and also to be able to help support Pete, and Cale has been able to have some really significant impact in some games as well.
“We’ve got to weigh all of that up and work with Cale as well.
“It’s a big decision for both parties to be able to continue on and we’ll make sure we do what’s best for him and the footy club.”
Hooker has managed just 5.5 from his past five games but will again be a central figure in the Bombers’ plans as they take on fellow finals contenders GWS on Sunday at a venue still to be determined.
Meanwhile, midfielder Andrew McGrath’s slim chances of returning this season have almost certainly been extinguished by his enforced stint in isolation.
The midfielder is sidelined by a knee injury sustained during the Dreamtime game in June and was considered an outside chance to play a role in the Bombers’ finals push.
But McGrath’s visit to a Tier 1 COVID-19 exposure site – he was one of a host of AFL players and staff who attended the Wallabies’ rugby union international against France in Melbourne last week – has hampered his rehabilitation program.
“He’s a really positive, upbeat guy, so he’s handling that as well as anyone could,” Rutten said.
“He’s going to be able to find a way to keep his conditioning up to some level, but certainly not exactly how we’d like it if he was in our program.
“He’s still got a brace on his knee and he’s still in those early stages of his recovery, so there’ll be a bit of a cost in terms of his return.
“But in terms of that final date, he’s still a little bit limited about what he can do anyway, so hopefully we don’t lose too much ground there.”