Hopoate adds faith to Eels' push for redemption

After his last game, the last game of 2011, Will Hopoate did a lap of honour. This was his first game of football since. On that occasion he was playing with, rather than against, Manly.

In some respects the stakes weren't as high this time but in others they were higher. Having moved from the club that finished first to the one that came last, Hopoate is expected to spark the renaissance. It's a fair ask of a 21-year-old who had gone game-less for 875 days. But then again, this is a man on a mission.

Having already waited 28 months, Hopoate was forced to wait another 40 minutes before being injected into the game. And then, it happened. The Eels went wide, Hoppa got the ball in space and, had he dummied and gone himself, would surely have scored with just his second touch of the ball.

Instead, he unselfishly passed to unmarked winger Vai Toutai, settling for an assist rather than a try.

He was both keen and green. On one occasion he carted the ball up twice in the one set. Later, his hands failed him trying to snare an attacking bomb. The former NSW three-quarter was solid but the best news was he escaped the game unscathed.

If there were any doubts about Hopoate's dedication to the task, then consider the following. During his sabbatical he was visited by Eels trainer Ciriaco Mescia, who checked upon his physical condition. After performing one of the speed drills, Hopoate demanded not only the result but to know how it compared with the rest of the Eels playing roster. Mescia, knowing it was a touch off the pace of the club's fittest, didn't want to let on. Hopoate insisted. Upon learning he was short of the mark, he walked back to the starting line. I'm doing it again. In his second attempt, he brained it.

It wasn't the only homecoming of the night. Brad Arthur returned to Brookvale for the first time since taking charge of the Eels. If it was up to the Manly players, he would never have left. He arrived unconvinced about his bench for the opening gambit against the Warriors and several strong performances have given him a pleasant headache. A series of defensive lapses on the right flank, when both teams fielded their strongest line-ups, provided the other type. The 28-24 scoreline against him wouldn't have helped.

Manly winger Jorge Taufua scored two tries and was going for his third when disaster struck. Not only was it disallowed for a forward pass, he suffered a shoulder injury which ended his night. Scans on Monday will determine if it's serious.

The match provided a little bit of everything. The Eels couldn't snare Israel Folau and had to settle for his little brother, John. The latter steamed over for a try before half-time off a Corey Norman pass to give the visitors a 20-4 advantage at the break. Chris Sandow had another little stint at fullback when New Zealand-born Irish international Api Pewhairangi hobbled off. He also played well enough in his more customary position without doing enough to take the No.7 jersey off Luke Kelly. Jarryd Hayne got 22 minutes to his credit without incident.

When the Eels return to Brookvale in round three, the stakes will be much higher.

This story Hopoate adds faith to Eels' push for redemption first appeared on Parramatta Sun.


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