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Mailangi creating own path in Hopoate family tree

Parramatta hooker Shirley Mailangi picks up her phone after every game in the NRLW and will sift through the messages before the a call comes through.

It’s uncle John. 

"Ah yeah, uncle John, he’s not afraid to give me feedback on my games," Mailangi grins.

"Some good, some bad, but he’s always the first to call me."

Uncle John, or as he’s known in wider rugby league circles, former Manly winger John Hopoate, is the brother of Mailangi's mother, making Shirley first cousins with past and present NRL players Will, Albert and Jamil Hopoate.

While Shirley, also known as Seli, might not have the Hopoate surname, she insists she's very much part of the sporting fabric in the family.

“Having all my cousins come through the ranks, every Manly first grade game we’d go to we’d be giving our feedback to them, so now it’s happening to me," Mailangi said.

"I take it all on board, it's nice to have the support. We are a big family."

Shirley Mailangi in action earlier this season.
Shirley Mailangi in action earlier this season. ©Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos

Like the Hopoate clan, Mailangi started playing rugby league aged six for five years before restrictions came into place for young girls playing the game.

She switched to rugby union in her teenage years but has since made her way back via the Bulldogs and Rabbitohs in the Harvey Norman NSW Premiership.

One of three players who played under Eels coach Dean Widders at the Rabbitohs last year, where she claimed player of the year honours, Mailangi was brought across by Widders to make the next step up.

“Before you even walked you could hold a football in the Hopoate household and I was no different,” she said.

“If there was a different code you played in, everyone would support you still but they’d rather watch you play rugby league.

“There’s no reason for any girl to move to a different code now. We have so many opportunities and pathways to grow. I'm an NRLW player now."

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Mailangi, who currently conducts rapid antigen tests for Coles workers in Sydney while juggling her Eels commitments, was relishing the chance to play in the competition.

“I start at 4am every morning until 9am or sometimes it’s longer, and then I go to training in the afternoon,” she said.

“I was a bit nervous coming into the team at first, I didn’t know many of the girls.

“I’d played against them last year but I’m just grateful to be here amongst players who have a lot of experience and have played at a high level. I’m just happy to learn off them.”

NRLW Teams: Eels v Roosters

Among the senior players to take her under he wing has been Eels rake Nita Maynard, who she filled in for at starting hooker last week due to a COVID scare.

“She’s been doing a lot to help me. I’ve just learnt how important communication is at this level," Mailangi said.

“I think that’s what the senior girls have done well to the less-experienced players. There’s no hierarchy and everyone is the same so they talk to us like we’ve all played together for ages.”

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.

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