They waited two years to get him, so another week surely won't matter much; having been left out of Parramatta's squad for the Eels' first pre-season trial – against Wests Tigers in Alice Springs on Saturday – William Hopoate is set to make his club debut in the Auckland Nines.
New coach Brad Arthur has resisted the temptation to include Hopoate, returning to the NRL after a two-year Mormon mission, in his inaugural squad, instead opting to play the former Manly premiership winner in the February 15-16 tournament. Arthur also said he was likely to play his other key signing Corey Norman in Auckland.
"I'd say so," Arthur said on Monday, when asked whether Hopoate would play in the Nines. "We spoke to him about the Alice Springs trip, and the Nines, or going straight through to the Manly game. He's excited about the format [of the Nines] and he didn't think he needed to have the hit-out in Alice Springs.
"If we were worried about where he was at, we would have given him 10 or 15 minutes [against the Tigers]. A lot of our training has been under game-situation. We've been ripping into the contact and he's been getting a feel for that."
Arthur has planned for Norman, who was also left out of the squad for the Alice Springs trial, to play at five-eighth against Manly on February 22, and then in round one against the Warriors on March 9. The No.7 who partners Norman against the Sea Eagles in the final trial will also likely play at halfback to start the season-proper. Luke Kelly, the most likely starter in round one, will play against the Tigers, but Chris Sandow will also receive significant game-time. "This will be a good test to see where we're at," Arthur said. "I'm looking forward to seeing the blokes under fatigue. No one will play 80 minutes but some blokes might get 60. They've all been training hard, but it's a bit easier doing it at training. The real test will come on Saturday, when they're put under a bit of pressure."
Eels squad: Daniel Alvaro, Mitch Allgood, Zach Dockar-Clay, Kenny Edwards, Toby Evans, Liam Foran, John Folau, David Gower, Ben Jones, Luke Kelly, Taniela Lasalo, Lorenzo Ma'afu, Manu Ma'u, Tim Mannah (c), Fuifui Moimoi, Ryan Morgan, Pauli Pauli, Semi Radradra, Chris Sandow, Brenden Santi, Ken Sio, Ben Smith, Peni Terepo, Vai Toutai.