The 19-year-old knocked back a $1.5 million deal from the Sea Eagles in May to undertake a two-year mission with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints but until recently he had no idea where he would be sent by the powers that be in Salt Lake City.
”It’s a random selection,” said Gabriel Miller, the bishop of Hopoate’s local congregation in Harbord. ”I was sent to Oregon, my wife was sent to the Philippines. They do ask you on your application whether you want to go overseas but the selection at the end of the day is completely random. The only place they won’t put you is the place where you’re from. He’s happy, I think, to be close to home.”
Hopoate will return to the game from the self-imposed hiatus in 2014 as a NSW State of Origin representative and, if all goes to plan on Sunday, a grand final winner. There is also the chance he could be selected for Australia’s end-of-season Four Nations tournament in England and Wales, a development that could delay his missionary duties.
”I don’t think, with the wingers these days, that I’ll make the Australian team, but if I do it would be a blessing,” Hopoate said. ”I’m not too sure what would happen there, but, in saying that, if I do get picked I’d like to play.”
As he prepares for the biggest game of his young career, he insists he has no regrets about quitting for two years to devote himself to his church. ”I’m still looking forward to serving my mission, but for now I’m focusing with the boys to play the best we can for Sunday’s game,” he said.
”I’ve made my decision and that’s that, nothing’s going to change it, but to win a grand final would be a dream come true and something I would cherish forever. My plan is to go away for two years and then come back and play the sport I love playing.”
When he does it will almost certainly be with Manly. The Sea Eagles put a two-year offer to his manager, Tyran Smith, last week and are keen to lock up the budding superstar before he leaves.
”There’s an offer been made,” Manly chief executive David Perry said. ”It’s with the manager at the moment.”