Hopoate's new lease on life
Canterbury fullback Will Hopoate seems to have a new lease on life playing fullback under the coach who looks to be able to get the best out of him and the former Sea Eagle and Eel says he is just enjoying his footy right now.
Speaking ahead of a traditional grudge match against his old teammates at Parramatta on Friday night, a laid back Hopoate said Canterbury's big in-form pack made his job easier and being back under the coach who handed him his debut was a huge positive.
Hopoate was trialled at fullback at the start of 2015 in place of the NFL-bound Jarryd Hayne with mixed results, though after returning to centre he also made his return to the Origin arena in an up-and-down two years at the Eels.
He said his recent form spike (though he thoroughly refused to give himself any credit for his own good form) was down to being in a good place off the field.
"I think there's a number of things. I think change can be a good thing and the change coming here to Canterbury has been a positive move for myself and being able to be coached by Des," he said.
"Running off the back of such a big forward pack that get a lot of good go-forward – I've always said that if jerseys eight to 17 don't do their job then jerseys one to 17 really can't do anything! I've always got to give credit to the boys doing the hard yards in the middle."
Prompted about his own bright start to the year that has included six tries, 134 metres per game, 24 tackle breaks and five try saves, Hopoate was typically humble.
"Thankfully I've scored a few tries but I can't really claim too many of those tries – all the tries are just putting my hand on the grubber or support and catch over the try-line," he smiled.
"There haven't been any big Greg Inglis, Shaun Johnson, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck tries, it's just been simple tries really off the back of the go-forward."
Hopoate did admit his impressive positional play was the result of plenty of hard work with the coaching staff over the off season, having been thrust into the jersey originally expected to be worn by Brett Morris this year before the ex-Dragon was laid up with a long-term knee complaint.
"A big focus I've tried to put on myself and also from Des is to try and 'push' on everything that happens. It's such a small play that goes unnoticed from the grandstands but it plays such a big part in the way the scoreboard ends up at the end of the game," he said.
"It's part of my responsibility as a fullback and something consciously focusing on.
"Part of me playing fullback, he kind of handed me the position and all the responsibilities that come along with it and pushing was definitely one of those."
Hopoate is also enjoying the chance to build an on-field combination with fellow key playmakers Josh Reynolds and Moses Mbye.
"At fullback you've got to know all the plays because generally speaking you're in most of them so that's been a big focus for myself [as well as] learning the calls and knowing where I need to be positionally on the field and so communicating with them effectively is very important because I've got to relay it to the edges and the middle boys," he said.
"I also understand that I've got to be very vocal on the pitch, especially in defence.
"Every week Des and Curls and Jim they're showing me footage of where I can be better and it's a good thing because I know there's things that I can do in my part to stop a try that happens on the wing and so getting the numbers right in defence and guiding the boys around the park is something I'm consistently working on."
Hopoate's immediate challenge is trying to reverse the Round 3 result that saw his new club downed by his most recent former club on the back of the latter's impressive defence and some pyrotechnics from new Kangaroo Semi Radradra when the Eels host the Bulldogs at ANZ Stadium on Friday night.
"It's exciting coming up against ex-teammates. I'm still friends with them off the field and I'm looking forward to Friday, playing against them and they're playing some great footy, they really are," Hopoate said.
"Especially their defence, it's no secret that they've stiffened up their defence and it's showing by the way they play. We know we're in for a big one and it's going to come down to who wants it more on Friday night and hopefully we come away with the two points."