WILL Hopoate is a man on a mission to succeed in Super League – after putting his career on hold for two years to complete a Mormon mission.
St Helens’ new Tongan star was the up and coming name in the NRL but at the age of 19, God came first.
The prospect of making it big – with the associated hefty contract – lay in wait for him at Aussie side Manly.
But a higher calling meant he left rugby league behind in favour of doing his work for the church, albeit striking lucky in that he knocked on doors and helped groups in Queensland.
Hopoate said: “It’s an experience I’m so grateful I’ve had and it’s something I’ll never regret. It continues to help me today.
“It was tempting to stay and continue living my childhood dream, earning income to support my family but the decision was made easier by making my mind up early in my life.
“We’d wake up at 6am-6.30am and do a bit of exercise, then we’d study until 10am. Then from 10am until about 9pm, we’d be out door knocking and offering service, teaching and speaking to people on the street.
“It could have been anywhere in the world. My brother served in the Philippines and a cousin went to Africa.”
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As a top athlete, Hopoate knew going on his mission would be a much different way of life, and training.
But despite spending hours walking the streets attempting to spread the Mormons’ message, he still fitted in physical exercise.
That meant linking up with Parramatta on a deal he signed before his two-year hiatus was not a case of starting from scratch.
He added: “You’re nowhere near as fit doing the mission as you are playing rugby. You get out in the morning and work out – whether that’s at a gym or running and doing a few exercises at a park.
“But the skill and contact sessions were the things you missed. It was really hard to fit them in and I just did what I could.”
Hopoate will still practice his faith in the UK – he has already found a church in St Helens – now he has left Australia for a crack at Super League, among friends.
Club boss Kristian Woolf is also in charge of Tonga and there is no mistaking the sights and sounds of new team-mate and Test colleague Konrad Hurrell.
All that lends to his time in this country being a success as Saints go for a fourth straight title, before a crack at the World Cup.
Hopoate, 29, told SunSport: “Everyone knows when Koni is at the training ground. It’s like things get louder as he approaches – he’s got a big mop of hair too, so you can’t not hear him and it’s hard to miss him!
“But it’s good to have a familiar face, it all helps and being here ahead of the World Cup could be good as I’d be used to the time and conditions by then.
“Our mindset is to go and win it, not to just make up the numbers.”
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