Hopoate out to bring down old mates Manly
Ahead of Friday night's must-win clash against his former club Manly, Eels centre Will Hopoate says Parramatta is a vastly different side from the one pipped by the Sea Eagles earlier this year.
Considered among the wooden spoon favourites in the pre-season, Parramatta were robbed of an upset victory over the Sea Eagles in Round 3 due to a last-minute try but have since kicked on in their renaissance as a football club and remain in strong contention for what would be an unlikely finals birth.
Following that close shave in March, the Eels went on a three-game winning run that showed the side had well and truly moved on from the past two seasons that ended with them taking away the wrong cutlery.
"We obviously drew some positives in coming close against a great team," Hopoate recalls of the earlier match-up.
"There's still things we can do to improve and we're going to have to be on our A-game this week to match them."
Hopoate, who left the Sea Eagles after their premiership triumph in 2011, spent the past two years on a Mormon mission before returning to rugby league as an Eel this season.
After a slow start to the year, the 22-year-old quickly his found his feet mid-season and eventually earned a recall into the NSW's triumphant Origin side in Game II.
But the strapping centre suffered a shoulder injury in the same match, keeping him out of action for seven weeks. Hopoate returned for the Eels' Round 20 win over the Titans, and says he is far more confident player than the one that took the field against his old team in March.
"I put on a bit more weight, which helps with the contact," he says. "But in saying that, each week comes a bit more confidence and the coach has shown me video on areas I can improve on. I appreciate that because it helps me a lot."
The son of infamous Manly winger John Hopoate says the Eels as a whole have grown as a team this year, but admits they still have to make rapid improvement to match it with the competition's elite.
"As a team we've grown in confidence," he said. "In saying that though, we know there's still plenty of things for us to do to give this competition a give shake. We're just trying to focus on us and what we can do to lift our game."
Hopoate, who still lives in the north shore area and regularly catches up with his old teammates, remains hopeful the team can keep their season alive with a win against the competition leaders.
"I still live in Manly and still sometimes see the boys down there. Obviously still good friends off the field," he says.
"Come Friday night, it's going to be a tough game and a great challenge for us coming up against a great team. It's a big game for the club, really. We're hanging on there, trying to get into the eight. Every game means a lot more. Hopefully we come away with a win."