HE IS the son of a serial rugby league offender, but teenager William Hopoate might just be Manly's saviour.
Two generations ... former NRL star John Hopoate with son William. Picture: Brett Costello Source: The Daily Telegraph
Hopoate, 17, is looming as a fullback replacement for Brett Stewart, the former Test player who was yesterday ruled out for five months with yet another knee injury.
Stewart will have surgery next week on his torn medial meniscus and damaged fibrocartilage.
He will not return until at least round 20 - the second successive year the star fullback has missed virtually the entire season.
While it is terrible news for Stewart, it could be the chance young Hopoate has been waiting for.
The Daily Telegraph understands that while the teenager will be overlooked for this Sunday's match against the Eels at Parramatta Stadium, he will be considered in coming weeks.
Proud father John, the former Manly and Test winger, said he was sure his son would handle the step up to first grade.
"I think he [William] can handle it," Hopoate Sr said.
"When he was playing SG Ball people were saying he was too young for the under-20s but he stepped up and did well.
"Now he's being talked about for first grade and people might think he's not ready but maybe he should get a go."
With winger David Williams also out for eight weeks (collarbone) and George Rose missing this weekend through suspension, TAB Sportsbet has pushed Manly from $13 out to $23 to win the premiership.
Stewart, who suffered the injury tackling Wests Tigers winger Lote Tuqiri on Monday night, will have surgery next week, his recovery to take three months, his rehabilitation to take a further two months.
He sustained the identical injury last year but to a different knee.
Manly coach Des Hasler must now find a new fullback - with young Hopoate in the frame.
Hasler said he has three options this season at fullback.
"Hopoate is waiting in the wings," Hasler said. "We have to look at the options. Michael Robertson did a great job last year as did Ben Farrar.
"Michael and Ben have the edge over Will in experience but that's not to say he won't get a shot through the year.
"He will be ready to take up the challenge."
Manly co-skipper Jamie Lyon added: "He [Hopoate] is a great prospect, he has a big future and is a great kid.
"If he gets a shot this weekend, it will be a good thing."
Manly players were in shock yesterday when told of Stewart's injury.
"Brett is a massive loss - you can't deny that," said hooker Matt Ballin. "It would be silly to try and cover that up.
"But we have to go on without him and do the best we can. It doesn't get much tougher than Parramatta at Parramatta Stadium."