Now Hopoate looks to Japan
Seeking to get "match fit" ... Hopoate.
WILL HOPOATE is the latest big name NRL player eyeing off a stint in Japanese rugby.
His manager, Tyran Smith, has revealed he is preparing to present a proposal to Hopoate's Parramatta coach Ricky Stuart that would allow the former NSW State of Origin star a chance to get ''match fit'' by playing Japanese rugby before he returns to rugby league from his Mormon mission in 2014.
Hopoate stunned the NRL when he took a two-year sabbatical to follow his religious vocation and preach from The Book of Mormon in south-east Queensland. However, he has been restricted in his efforts to keep NRL-ready by numerous religious restraints, one of which doesn't allow him more than an hour a day to train.
Smith, a former New Zealand international who is managing a stable of young stars including Panthers boom rookie Blake Austin and Penrith's 16-year-old whiz kid Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, said he had planned to approach Stuart and Parramatta's chief executive, Ken Edwards, sometime this week to float the idea that they permit Hopoate to regain his groove in the lucrative Japanese rugby competition.
''I'm looking into it because I want to make contact with the Japanese brokers who do the deals over there,'' Smith said. ''Whether Parramatta is prepared to allow it may be another story, though.
''However, I think it would be a good idea for Will to play the last few months of the Japanese season - October, November and December - and be back at Parramatta with some footy under his belt in January.''
The eldest son of former Manly international John Hopoate decided to dedicate himself to religion despite becoming, at 18, the second-youngest player behind Brad Fittler to represent NSW in the State of Origin series, in 2011, and playing in the premiership winning Des Hasler-coached Sea Eagles outfit.
Hopoate was signed to a two-year deal with Parramatta worth $1.7 million when Stephen Kearney was at the helm because the New Zealand coach, who has since accepted an assistant's role with the Brisbane Broncos, liked the traits, including integrity, he brought to the club.
As Parramatta craved his presence and skills during their battle to ward off the dreaded wooden spoon this season, Smith would need to convincingly sell the reasons for Hopoate playing rugby in Japan while his teammates slogged it out at preseason training.
''It's simply about letting Will get the footy in his hand, making runs, reading the defence and making tackles,'' he said.
The NRL was poised to clamp down on any loophole that would allow players to follow the precedent set by All Black Sonny Bill Williams and inflate their incomes by travelling to Japan during the off-season.
Wests Tigers superstar Benji Marshall's manager, Martin Tauber, suggested the Kiwi international was another NRL player in line to ply his trade in Japan but, after his club and the NRL expressed their concerns, Marshall announced at a sports dinner in Sydney on Friday night that a stint in Japanese rugby was not on his radar.