Ex-Origin player Hopoate to join ‘legends’ in city
KNOWN as one of the bad boys of rugby league, John Hopoate has discovered his real personality since retiring from professional sport.
This weekend, the former NSW Origin star will join some of the game's biggest names for the Legends of League exhibition match in Ipswich.
A proud member of the initiative since 2006, Hopoate said it is an event he wouldn't miss for the world.
"I put my hand up every chance I get and every time they put this on," Hopoate said.
"It is getting bigger every time and I think it's a great concept. There are still fans who still get a buzz out of seeing all the older blokes that they remember watching play."
With a bigger than life aura, the former rugby league hardman said he enjoyed making some new fans.
"My face is still out there even though I'm not on the TV all the time," he said. "I don't know if it's a good thing but people still seem to know me from the media for the wrong things. It's different when they get to meet the real side of me.
"I love being around fans and you have to treat everyone well. If you are good to them on your way up, they will be good to you on the way down so you have to be good to everyone."
Just like the fans, Hopoate said the reunion event was a chance for some of the players themselves to discover another side to their former opponents.
"You play against a lot of these boys and you know them but you never get to meet them," he said. "It's the camaraderie that you miss after playing the game.
"It doesn't matter what generation you play. You just click as a player and I love hanging around the older blokes and hearing all their stories about when they played."
Relishing his chance to line up for NSW one more time, the titan Tongan has plenty of respect for the players around him.
"I'm always in awe of these guys I watched while growing up and idolised," he said. "Now I get a chance to play with them and it is a buzz going away on these trips. Just being around the boys and getting out there to the different communities and country towns and showing our support is great."
With a representative career that included stints for NSW, Australia and Tonga during the 90's, Hopoate is familiar with playing in different playing groups.
At club level he also represented Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles, Wests Tigers and Northern Eagles during more than 200 games in the National Rugby League competition.
With more than 5000 NRL games worth of experience on display, Saturday's contest will be a unique chance to see some of the sport's biggest names alongside a showcase of local teams.
"I'm looking forward to seeing Ben Smith who only just recently retired, and Tom Learoyd-Lahrs," he said.
"It's always good to see some new guys come through but it's mostly my generation and guys just before me.
"Those guys might not be as fit as they used to be but everyone tries pretty hard to win especially as it get close to the end."
Players will mingle with fans at a Gala Dinner on Friday night, which kicks at 5.30pm at United Sports Club.
The players will also be holding a signing session at Riverlink Shopping Centre from 11am on Saturday before the afternoon of excitement at the North Ipswich Reserve.