Hopoate hasn't 'watched too much footy'

As William Hopoate prepares for his first NRL game in two years, the Eels recruit hasn't poured over hours of video in a bid to familiarise himself with his opposition.

Instead, Hopoate was opted for a more “in at the deep end” approach leading into the game against the Warriors, his first NRL match since the 2011 grand final. Hopoate's focus has been on transforming his slim body back to being a NRL athlete, after spending two years on a Mormon mission.

“I haven't watched too much footy since I've been back,” Hopoate said. “Except for the video footage we watch at training. I see bits and pieces of replays on TV and if my brothers are at home I might watch a little bit.

“As for a whole game I haven't really watched too much. There' a bit of unknown but the sport hasn't changed. It's still six tackles and there are 13 players on the field. It's going to take some adjusting.”

Hopoate will face the Warriors on Saturday - the same team he played in his last game of NRL, Manly's 24-10 grand final win. While he said he “doesn't know' who he will be marking, the Warriors are a vastly different outfit to the one he last faced, with only Shaun Johnson and Manu Vatuvei guaranteed starters from the backline that featured in that premiership loss.

“I haven't looked into any of that yet,” Hopoate said. “I'm just focused on what I can do and what I can do for the team.”

A 40-minute hit out against former club Manly recently helped Hopoate blow out some cobwebs. But come Saturday he expects to be as nervous as when he made his NRL debut in 2010.

“It's exciting,” he said. “There are obviously nerves there too. A bit of mixed emotions but I'm looking forward to it. I pulled up better than what I thought. I was obviously a bit sore. I walked away from the game grateful to be injury free and with lots of lessons to learn.

“I need to be stronger physically and I'm starting to build more speed and reading the game more. It was a touch-up for myself to get the cobwebs out and what I should be expecting in the NRL.

“It definitely felt a lot faster and more physical. I'm just happy to be back playing the sport that I love to play and that I loved growing up as a kid. I'm pumped.”

Hopoate's pre-season has been slightly altered as he looked to regain the strength he lost while he was away from full-time training. He has put on seven kilograms - largely muscle - but is confident he has maintained his speed.

“I came back a lot thinner from the mission,” he said. “I tried to put on some good weight and a bit of bulk. I've been training hard in the gym to bulk up. It's a physical competition and I don't want to be tossed around too much.

“I don't want to get too heavy. I want to be heavy enough to get thrown around the park.”

Hopoate's return hasn't been without setbacks. His body has taken time to adjust to the rigours of consistent daily training. His return to competitive football was delayed when a groin injury forced his withdrawal from the Auckland Nines.

“I was battling a few niggling injuries in my leg,” he said. “Thankfully it was nothing major. My body was adjusting to the footy training schedule. I am trying to get the body right. Hopefully it's good to go this week.”

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