MANLY are moving to block rival clubs from poaching rising star Will Hopoate before he returns from a two-year Mormon mission in 2014.
William Hopoate. Picture: Gregg Porteous Source: The Daily Telegraph
Rather than earn in excess of $1 million at either Brookvale, Canterbury or Parramatta over the next three seasons, William Hopoate will head to Salt Lake City to commence the unpaid task of spreading God's word.
The NRL market's hottest young commodity, the 19-year-old Sea Eagle was chased by six rival clubs until he decided to quit the game on Thursday night in favour of pleas from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to undertake the mission.
The Eels and Bulldogs were known to be Manly's biggest threat, with both Sydney powerhouses offering big personal incentives to lure Hopoate west.
Parramatta insiders say Hopoate was offered the chance to live with Eels coach Stephen Kearney, while Bulldogs assistant Jim Dymock spoke to the teenager at length about joining the Belmore club during last week's City camp.
Manly, however, are now trying to beat them to the punch more the two years ahead of Hopoate's return by making him an offer to give the Sea Eagles first and last option in negotiations for his next NRL contract.
"We'd certainly like to keep him in the family," Sea Eagles chairman Scott Penn said yesterday. "If he does choose the path he's chosen then we would like to look at a first and last option when he does come back so that we can have every opportunity to keep him at Manly. It's a risk, but it's a risk that's worth taking. It's important that we keep him in the family.
"We haven't signed off on that yet, but it's something we are working towards.
"He's already indicated he wants to come back. It's important that we try and get some form of agreement with him to back that up."
The arrangement would not require Hopoate to sign a new contract, but it could involve Manly paying their departing star a sum over the next two years to secure the first and last option.
Hopoate admitted the big money was hard to turn down, but said his mission trip was very close to his heart.
It is not confirmed where he will spend 2012 and 2013, but Mormon missionaries are particularly active in third world countries across Africa and South-East Asia.
"I'm human, money talks," Hopoate said. "I wouldn't be as happy if I stayed. This is what's going to make me more happy at the end of the day.
"I told the boys this is not something I'm forced to do or have to do, this is something that I want to do.
"God knows, mate. I'd love to come back and play, but we haven't got that far yet."
Parramatta last night indicated they would not seek to oppose Manly's attempts to secure privileged negotiating rights, while the Bulldogs are now expected to escalate their pursuit of off-contract Eel Joel Reddy to fill Jamal Idris's sizeable boots at right centre.
Needing to attract speed and youth to their backline for 2012, Parramatta have now missed out on both Hopoate and Sean Kenny-Dowall but still boast deep cash reserves to make a big-name purchase in the coming months.
"It was a very brave decision," Parramatta CEO Paul Osborne said yesterday.
"We obviously think he's a talent and would like to keep in touch with him. But we won't be putting any pressure on the kid after this."
Hopoate's departure will ease the pleasant three-quarter headache for Manly coach Des Hasler, who can no longer fit top-liners David and Tony Williams into his star-studded starting backline.
Hopoate's father and former Sea Eagles international John admitted his son had made an extraordinary financial sacrifice.
He has another boy, Jamil, playing for the club's SG Ball team and it remains to be seen whether or not the talented back-rower will follow in his older brother's faith-based footsteps.
"The money that he's walked away from is massive," said John Hopoate, who also works as the Sea Eagles' boxing coach.
"That he can walk away from that kind of money ... some clubs were offering $1.5 million over a couple of years ... to walk away from that is massive. That just goes to show what type of person this kid is. He's put his faith first before money."