As we count down to season 2014, NRL.com identifies 30 players who will be crucial to their team's fortunes this year. From new faces to rising stars to proven performers who will need to lift this season, these are our 'MVPs' for 2014.
Some would argue that after the two years the Eels have had, they may be in need of some divine intervention to lift themselves of the foot of the NRL ladder. Coach Brad Arthur may not be looking for returning Mormon missionary Will Hopoate to provide a direct line to the big man upstairs, but he will at least be looking for him to provide some inspiration in the form of some serious strike power out wide.
To be fair, the three-quarter line has been the least of the Eels' woes over three years in the doldrums since their surprise 2009 grand final appearance. But with English Test forward Lee Mossop and promising Wests Tigers junior Brendan Santi bolstering the forwards and star Broncos playmaker Corey Norman to hopefully generate a stack more opportunities from the halves, the Eels will be hoping to benefit from the addition of a world class outside back like Hoppa Jr.
After a handful of games in 2010 Hopoate had his breakout year in 2011, finishing his Manly career with 14 tries from 22 games and getting a shock call up to the NSW Origin side (as the Blues' third youngest ever debutant), scoring a high quality try in their Game Two win before missing the decider (and around six weeks of footy) with a hamstring strain.
He was back for the finals however, and finished his career at the Sea Eagles as a premiership-winning winger in their 24-10 win over the Warriors – which until season 2014 kicks off remains his last NRL game.
Despite his two years out of the game Hopoate will come into the blue and gold setup with huge expectations on his young shoulders, and while Arthur will no doubt give him some time to get settled in and back to match fitness, if the Eels are to be anything better than also-rans again in 2014 they'll need their star recruit firing on all cylinders sooner rather than later – if for no reason other than the sizeble chunk of their salary cap he is reported to be soaking up.
There is no doubt Parramatta took a huge gamble signing a player who was about to embark on a two-year hiatus from the game and we're about to find out if it will pay off, and Hopoate will need to work doubly hard to catch up to where he needs to be over the off season. In fact the men involved in taking this gamble won't be anywhere to be seen one way or the other – then-coach Steve Kearney and then-CEO Paul Osborne have long since departed, and the new setup is about to discover whether this last legacy from the former administrators is a positive one.
For his part, from all reports Hopoate is training the house down, although for a rumoured $800,000 per season you'd expect as much. Whether he plays in Round 1, and whether he regains his old form sooner, later, or not at all remains to be seen. One thing is certain though – the Eels will need the services of a player of Hopoate's talent if they are to be a force in 2014.