DEAN KEATES has categorically denied suggestions that striker JJ Hooper is refusing to play for Wrexham.

Hooper has been sidelined since hobbling off in the 2-1 defeat at Dagenham and Redbridge on October 26 with rumours circulating that the 26-year-old is opting not to play despite being declared fully fit.

But Wrexham boss Keates said: “There’s been no rift. I’ve not heard him refuse to play, he’s just not felt comfortable.

“I’m not going to throw a lad out there who is saying to me that he’s not comfortable.

“Is it bad for the lads for him to be thrown out there? Yes. Does it look bad on me if I put him out there and we are putting up the subs board after five minutes?”

Keates famously played with a broken collar bone during a Welsh derby clash with Newport County back in 2011.

The 41-year-old, however, is careful not to compare players each other, or himself, continuing: “Everybody is different. Mentality is a massive, massive part of football and everybody is different, so you can’t judge somebody on what you could do.

“Can it frustrate you? To an extent yes, because there is no doubt that over the last few weeks we’ve needed him out there contributing.

“Can he play a part at the football club going forward? Yes, there is no denying that. He’s the only out and out number nine we’ve got at the football club.

“Bobby has had to slip in there and he’s done a great job for us, but we needed that number nine.

“Was I openly looking? Yes. Were there many about? No.”

Hooper has returned to full training with Wrexham, and if he makes it through the rest of the week unscathed, he is set to return to the squad for Saturday’s FA Trophy trip to Halifax.

“I’m hopeful. He’s trained the last few days and there’s been no reaction that I’ve been told about,” said Keates. “It’s got to a point where he feels happy with himself.

“I’m optimistic he will play a part. He’s at a point where he feels he can contribute. Can we say he’s like a brand new signing? Possibly because there hasn’t been any consistent performances from him.

“I’m looking for him to play his part at the back end of the season.”