You have skipped the navigation, tab for page content
Will Hopoate passes for Tonga against New Zealand in June.

Players never want to strike unless they have no alternative but Will Hopoate says the Tongan team's threat to withdraw its services is real.

The Mate Ma'a Tonga fullback reaffirmed the position of players ahead of the World Nines that they would not be backing down on their demands for an overhaul of the Pacific nation's rugby league bureaucracy.

Hopoate said the league community must not interpret relative silence on the issue over the past week as any sign the problems have been solved.

"We have been keeping in contact and don't want to wreck the preparations of those playing finals footy," Hopoate told

"But everyone is united in their stance to want Kristian [Woolf] to stay as coach. We want the board to step down.

"That's been our stance all along and is still what we want. The withdrawal from playing is real."

Tonga are due to play in the Downer Rugby League World Cup 9s at Bankwest Stadium from October 18-19.

Fonua-Blake backs Tonga player boycott

Then there are Tests scheduled against the touring Lions on October 26 in Hamilton and the Kangaroos on November 2 at Auckland's Eden Park.

Two weeks ago the news broke that the Tonga rugby league board was seeking to sack Woolf and had made some other financial decisions the players consider detrimental to the growth of the game in Tonga.

Hopoate said the players were not taking the hard line for any selfish means of advantage and had shown their loyalty to their country.

"We want to play … we want to play under Kristian Woolf and obviously not under the current board, for certain reasons," Hopoate said.

"Look playing for Tonga, a lot of the guys have sacrificed a lot of money to pull on the jersey. It has always shown that we're not in for the money but for our people."

The 27-year-old picked up the Dr George Peponis Player of the Year award at the Bulldogs presentation night last week.

The pride he feels in playing for the Bulldogs was also brought to the fore this week, when he joined players like Steve Mortimer, Terry Lamb, Andrew Farrar, Darren Smith and more recently David Klemmer (2018), as the club's player of the year.

"Some great players have received this award. So to get it this year is humbling and something I'm very grateful for."

Hopoate will play his 150th NRL game in 2020 in a Bulldogs jersey, and is now happy to have settled into a permanent positional home at centre, with the mid-season arrival of Dallin Watene-Zelezniak from the Panthers.

"Since Dal has come along we play better as a team. He's a big reason for that. I'm enjoying my time in the centres and working on the combinations there," Hopoate said.

"But I want to play finals footy and that takes 17 players putting their everything into 17 positions and putting the team first.

"If that means playing in the centres, then so be it. Dal is a really good friend of mine – he's my roomie – we couldn't be any closer. Everyone has seen how he plays at No.1. So it's no coincidence that since he's come here we've been better."

World Cup 9s launch

The Bulldogs began 2019 with one win from the opening six rounds. They ended with seven wins from the last 10 games.

"The lesson from this year is that we have to start fast, especially when the pressure is on.

"It's easier to play when that pressure is off you a bit, so you're not trying to always catch-up at the back end of the year."


For ticket and travel packages for the Downer Rugby League World Cup 9s Sydney 2019, head to

Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

Premier Partner

Media Partners

Major Partners

View All Partners