Hayne is irreplaceable: Hopoate
Of all the reasons to watch yet another chapter in the famous Parramatta-Manly rivalry kick the footy season off for 2015, the former Mormon missionary will make for compelling viewing.
Has he played for the other team before? Check. Is he playing in a new position? Check. And does he hate the Sea Eagles? Well, the son of the infamous John Hopoate isn't so much a hater as he is a lover.
After all, Will Hopoate did get hitched last weekend.
"I'm no romantic person," he interjected on Monday. "But it was a memorable day for the both of us and I'm sure something we'll always remember."
Not least because he and his new wife postponed the honeymoon to ensure he lines up in the famed No.1 jumper this Friday night against his old club.
While much of the build-up has centred around Anthony Watmough's dramatic defection from the northern beaches to Sydney's west – Kieran Foran's rumoured move there and Manly's supposed intention to steal Brad Arthur back also got some headlines too – many eyes will also be fixated on the first bloke to step into Jarryd Hayne's boots in almost a decade.
The fact that Arthur will name Hopoate on the same day his predecessor apparently announces which NFL team he'll play for is typical rugby league theatre.
Yet the 22-year-old insists there's no pressure that comes with taking Hayne's spot in the limelight.
"Not so much. I think Jarryd's irreplaceable," he said.
"There's things he can do that I certainly can't. He's a freak of a player. I'm not going to try and fill Jarryd's shoes, I'll just hopefully play the best footy I can. And if it benefits the team, that's a bonus."
For that to happen, he says, opening his mouth is going to be a part of it.
After entering the League as an introverted 18-year-old rookie on Manly's flank back in 2011, Hopoate intends on extracting all the skills he learnt from his two-year sabbatical as a Mormon missionary to ensure Eels fans aren't asking where the Hayne plane is on Friday night.
"Talking is something I really want to improve on. I feel I slowly am. So I'll be guiding the boys around a bit more in defence I hope it can be beneficial to my team," he said.
Asked whether his activities with the Mormon mission helped him do that, he replied: "I believe so. For the two years that's what we did pretty much every day, just talking and talking. So that skill has definitely rolled off into my playing now, especially for that of a fullback."
The other element crucial in shifting Hopoate will be his fitness.
Having just come to grips with the speed of a faster competition upon his return last season, the NSW representative says it's entirely plausible that he'd have to call on the services of wingman Reece Robinson during the match.
"Probably if I get tired. Reecey, he's great for our team. He can play wing and fullback, which is a benefit for us. I think if the lungs aren't going too well, then I'm sure I might call Reecey to help me out," he said.
"It's obviously been a challenge. There's more running, more lateral movement in the fullback position. I played there most of my juniors pretty much, so it's not something completely new – just reminding me of the things I was doing before and extra tips from Brad and the staff."
Speaking of tips, Hopoate isn't shy about mentioning a bloke who taught him a thing or two about playing custodian, either. A bloke he'll be matching up against this weekend in Brett Stewart.
"'Snake' was a great impact on me at Manly as a kid. There's things that he taught me that I valued and still remember. I'm grateful for those little lessons," he said.
And he might have to call upon every single one of them in a blockbuster season-opener that'll be compelling viewing with a packed Pirtek Stadium already close to selling out.
"There's always that great spark, Parramatta-Manly, Round 1, Friday night. It's a great event and I'm sure us and them are excited and ready to go for the fans," he said.
Eels halfback Chris Sandow participated in some light running drills on Monday morning and is expected to be named in Arthur's side on Tuesday, while veteran Beau Champion is also believed to get first crack at partnering Ryan Morgan in the centres.