Bulldogs ace Will Hopoate has launched an impassioned plea for his father John to be cleared for a return to coaching, saying "he's learnt from his mistakes", as the one-time rugby league bad boy's showdown with the NRL heads for the Supreme Court.
The Canterbury recruit's strict religious beliefs and cleanskin image have always been at odds with the trouble his father courted during a controversial playing career, which has now extended off the field.
Sidelined: John Hopoate has been stood down from coaching Manly's SG Ball team. Photo: James Brickwood
The NRL has deemed John Hopoate as "not a fit and proper character" to coach Manly's SG Ball team after a senior NSW police officer wrote to NRL integrity unit head Nick Weeks, warning that John had links to criminal figures.
The former Sea Eagle and Tiger has denied the claim, and has taken legal action, saying the NRL has no jurisdiction to stop him from coaching in an NSWRL-run competition.
And Will, who appears to have settled in quickly at Belmore under former mentor Des Hasler, says the NRL's most suspended player still has an affection for rugby league and the respect of the teenagers he coaches.
"I've seen [the respect from kids he coaches] and comments from the parents as well," the Bulldogs fullback said. "A lot of the kids he's coached ... I know them as well. They've had no problem with him being a coach.
"He said it himself – if there's a person or coach to teach younger players what not to do, he's the right man. He's learnt from his mistakes and he's paid the price for them, and I don't see why he shouldn't be deemed fit to have a coaching gig.
"The game still has a big part in his heart and he still wants to be a part of it, and I think coaching is the way he expresses that."
John Hopoate's case is listed to be mentioned in the Supreme Court next Tuesday, meaning both father and son are fighting legal battles on separate fronts as Will tries to settle a contract dispute with Parramatta.
But it is the plight of his father that has attracted greater interest after ARL Commission chairman John Grant rejected an application for John Hopoate to resume clipboard duties with Manly until the matter was heard in the Supreme Court.
"I always will support my dad. I think he's paid the penalties for his mistakes in the past – we all make mistakes – and hopefully it works out for him and he will get the coaching gig," Will Hopoate said.
"I know he's been coaching for a long time in local footy and coaching my brothers, myself at times and if he pursues that career I'll definitely support him all the way. He's a big reason for why I am here today playing first grade footy."
Despite a couple of turbulent years at Parramatta after his Mormon mission ended, the 23-year-old showed glimpses of his best in the Bulldogs' demolition of another of his former clubs, Manly, during last week's opening round.
The five-time State of Origin representative was slated to spend the year in the centres, but has quickly adapted to the No.1 jersey in the absence of long-term casualty ward member Brett Morris, who is likely to vacate his Blues jumper for the start of the series.
"Thankfully I trained quite a bit there last pre-season and it wasn't too much of an adjustment ... it was more about learning the structures and the calls here at the club," said Hopoate, who will line up for his second match in blue and white against Penrith on Thursday.
"The boys helped me out a lot as well. It was challenging, but it wasn't going into a whole new world.
"To be honest, my goal right now is to play good footy for Canterbury and if representative honours come along the way I will be very grateful and humbled, and try to grasp it with both hands. It's out of my control [now] and all I can do is play my best for Canterbury."
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