A rugby star’s decision to serve a Mormon mission has caused something of a media frenzy in Australia.
Will Hopoate, 19, has announced that he will embark on a mission at the end National Rugby League season. The Manly fullback has submitted his missionary application and awaits news of his destination sometime in August.
Brad Walter of the Sydney Morning Herald interviewed Hopoate’s local church leader, Bishop Gabriel Miller. The bishop described the daily schedule of missionary work, the nature of the service-oriented work, and said Hopoate would be a better person for having served.
''He is going to leave a boy and come back a man,'' Miller said. ''It is going to be good for him. I think it will make him mentally stronger.”
Sebastian Hassett, another writer with the Sydney Morning Herald, wrote that if history is any guide, it will be a struggle for Hopoate to resurrect his career following his mission. He cited his own uncle Albert as an example.
“Albert was destined for stardom when he emerged as a key member of the Sydney Roosters' all-conquering Jersey Flegg side in 2004, only to then decide he wanted to complete his Mormon mission before going into the big time,” Hassett wrote. “But when he returned in 2007, his development had stalled, and he no longer had the desire to compete at the higher level. He now plays rugby union for the Penrith Emus while working for the church in his spare time.”
Fraser Anderson served a mission in the Philippines and did return to play rugby. Anderson earned $400,000 playing in the Japanese Top League. Ben Hannant elected not to serve a mission and has regrets, Hassett wrote.
“It’s something I wish I did,” Hannant told Hassett.
Clubs in the NRL have accepted Hopoate’s decision to leave for two years and are already trying to sign him for the 2014 season. The Sydney Morning Herald reports that his manager, Tyran Smith, has been contacted by several “interested” clubs.
Before Hopoate announced his plans to serve a mission, he was offered a four-year deal worth $1.5 million. Smith told the media he was not surprised by the amount of interest in the speedster, saying NRL club chief executives appreciated that Hopoate offered much more than a dynamic on-field presence.
"The clubs have made it clear they are after Will, the person," Smith told the Syndey Morning Herald. "He's the kind of player they want to build their culture and playing roster around … anyone who speaks to him would realize Will is the kind of character rugby league wants."
Meanwhile, another prominent rugby player has just returned from the mission field and was signed to a new club.
Jordan Rapana, 21, returned from a mission to England and was signed by the Western Force Super Rugby franchise, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.
Rapana is excited for the opportunity.
"When I served my mission in England and Wales it happened to be in big premiership rugby cities and that definitely ignited the passion again for rugby. I'm looking forward to the challenge of moving back into rugby and I'm confident that if I put in the hard work during the off season that it'll be the right move for me,” Rapana told the Herald.
"I was very fortunate to be given an opportunity to play in a professional environment … and I've set myself to do everything I can in local rugby and pre-season games to earn a place in the Western Force side next season."
Western Force Coach Richard Graham has been impressed with Rapana’s dedication and ability. Despite not playing for two years, he was clocked as the second fastest player on the team.
"He is quick, and aerially one of the best players I've seen in recent times, while he also possesses a very good all round skill set. Jordan is very keen to establish himself in rugby and we were extremely impressed with him as a person and a player during that trial period,” Graham said. “I have no concerns about Jordan being able to quickly establish himself in rugby."
Rapana told the Gold Coast Bulletin News he has no regrets about leaving rugby to serve for two years.
“I am glad I made the decision to go on a mission and I loved every minute of it. I learnt a lot from helping people physically and spiritually and just learnt a lot more about myself and what I can do to be a better person,” Rapana said.
Rapana admires Hopoate for his decision serve a mission, given the opportunities and large sums of money he is leaving on the table. Rapana predicts Hopoate will return the elite levels of rugby upon his return.
“He will love every minute of it and not regret it,” he said. “I take my hat off to him.”
See additional information about Will Hopoate's decision to serve a mission in this report from Ten News.