The Parramatta Eels have made an audacious play for Manly sensation William Hopoate as part of a multimillion-dollar raid to revamp their roster under Stephen Kearney.
The Eels have money to spend under the salary cap and hope to lure Chris Sandow to the club to help solve their halves problems.
They have already poached young centre Junior Vaivai from Redfern and Roosters back-rower Tom Symonds is another target.
However, adding young gun Hopoate to an ageing back line is also a priority for Eels officials, who have opened talks with his manager, Tyran Smith.
The Hopoate name is synonymous with Manly after William’s father, John, tasted premiership success during a 150-game stint with the Sea Eagles.
However, the former Blues and Kangaroos winger seemed unperturbed by the prospect of his son defecting to Manly’s arch-enemy.
”You can’t rule anything out,” John Hopoate said yesterday. ”He’s certainly playing well.”
The Eels won’t have it all their own way at the negotiating table. Manly are desperate to retain the talented teen and it is rumoured the Bulldogs are prepared to outlay up to $400,000 a season to offset the loss of Jamal Idris to the Gold Coast. St George Illawarra will also be on the hunt for a replacement fullback – Darius Boyd’s transfer to Newcastle is expected to be officially announced as soon as this week.
Hopoate has played only nine NRL games but is already establishing himself as one of the game’s best young players. The 18-year-old was man of the match in Manly’s win against Penrith on Friday night after again deputising for Brett Stewart (hamstring) at fullback.
This season he already has four tries to his credit and runs for an average of 147 metres per game, putting him in the top half-dozen players for that category in the NRL.
With Jarryd Hayne owning the No.1 jersey at Parramatta, Hopoate is seen as an option in the centres or on the wing. Several of the club’s three-quarters, including Joel Reddy, Chris Hicks, Paul Whatuira and Chris Walker, are playing for contract extensions.
The Eels have front-loaded the contracts of several players they wish to retain to make room for an assault on the playing market.
Sandow’s future is expected to be resolved in coming days. The Eels are confident the Rabbitohs won’t be able to match their offer.
The club was partly motivated by a glowing endorsement from Wayne Bennett, who believes the playmaker has the ability and toughness to play Origin football, given the right tutelage. While they also hope to snare Symonds, the Bondi Junction club has made him a priority re-signing.
Meanwhile, Daniel Mortimer believes the rumour mill linking almost any off-contract player with Parramatta is not disrupting the struggling Eels.