Mormons in sports: Much ado about Will Hopoate

Published: Monday, Oct. 10 2011 5:00 a.m. MDT

Australian rugby star Will Hopoate shows off his finals ring. He is preparing to leave on an LDS mission.

www.dailytelegraph.com.au

The Australian media just can’t seem to get enough of Will Hopoate these days.

For the past several months, newspapers, TV stations and other media in Australia have reported the latest on the national rugby league star and his decision to serve a two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The 19-year-old, who turned down millions, has received his mission call to Brisbane, a 13-hour drive north of Sydney.

An article in the Herald Sun said Hopoate “is considered one of the best prospects in the game and played a starring role in Manly’s recent grand final win."

The Daily Telegraph recently broke the news that Parramatta Eels’ coach Stephen Kearney and team recruiter Peter Nolan persuaded Hopoate to commit to a two-year deal, which will begin when the young star returns from his mission in 2014.

Hopoate’s current team, the Sea Eagles, tried desperately to sign him, but Parramatta’s offer apparently was too generous to refuse. “Sources close to the negotiations said the Eels contract was worth upwards of $500,000 a season,” the article reported.

"A player of Will's calibre coming to the club is a tremendous endorsement of where we're heading," Eels chief executive officer Paul Osborne said in the Herald Sun. 
"He's an unbelievable talent and at just 19, he will join us as a 21-year-old ready to enter the prime of his career."

Sea Eagles teammate Daly Cherry-Evans told the Sydney Morning Herald that Hopoate's decision to defect to Parramatta when he returns from his Mormon mission in two years is a huge loss for the Sea Eagles.

"I think on Sunday he spoke for himself (on) what sort of talent he's got," Cherry-Evans said about his old teammate.

"To lose him, it's pretty big. I was just happy to be in a team with Will Hopoate. It was just a pleasure to play with the young kid. … It's a great signing for Parramatta. They'll really benefit from Hoppa."

A disappointed Des Hasler said in the Canberry Times that he understands Hopoate's decision to switch camps to Parramatta after completing his mission, saying the Sea Eagles did everything in their power to convince the teenage star to resume his career in maroon and white.

An article in the Sydney Morning Herald offers additional information on similar topics.

Hopoate's father told the Sydney Morning Herald, "I'm very excited he's going to do this (mission). Hopefully when he gets back he can continue what he's started. He'll be fine.''

The junior Hopoate will initially undergo missionary training in Auckland but before that will attend a civic reception and presentation dinner.

New Zealand All Blacks legend Sid Going, who played 86 matches for New Zealand after his two-year Mormon mission in the 1960s, believes Hopoate is destined for greatness when he returns from his mission in 2014, according to the Syndey Herald.

Going says Hopoate's mission won't derail the 19-year-old's promising career but will ensure he returns a better rugby player than when he left.

"If I didn't go, I don't know if I would've had the career I did," Going said. "I came back a much more mature person, knowing the goals and directions I wanted to go. It was the best decision I made at the time, and I'm sure Will will feel the same. I think the decision is the best decision he could've ever made."

Hopoate and Going were speakers at a recent LDS gathering in Canberra. They encouraged the youths of the area to stay on the straight and narrow.

It was the first time the pair had met.

Hopoate was invited to speak at an LDS fireside with rugby legend Sid Going Sunday night and the Sydney Morning Herald was on the front row.

''I was never the most obedient child, but I have found that if I put the Lord first in my life, everything else just falls into place,'' Hopoate told the congregation. ''Everything just takes care of itself ... He blessed me to play first grade, He blessed me to play State of Origin, He blessed me to play in the finals ... In my heart and soul, I know that those things are blessings from God.''

Email: ttoone@desnews.com

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