Will Hopoate is tackled in a game against the Sharks. Picture: Brett Costello
Will Hopoate is tackled in a game against the Sharks. Picture: Brett Costello

Growing up the son of a bum-poker

WILLIAM Hopoate was only eight years old when his father, John, stunned the NRL by attempting to stick his finger in the bottoms of three North Queensland Cowboys players.

Seventeen years on in a column for the Players Voice, the Bulldogs star has written about the impact of his father's disastrous acts.

Hopoate, 26, says Wests Tigers teammates of his father insisted his decision to poke Glenn Morrison, Peter Jones and Paul Bowman was "supposed to be a prank to watch in team video sessions" but "ended up costing him his personal brand for life".

"It was a difficult time for our family," Hopoate wrote.

"I'd wake up to dozens of media people camped outside our home every day. I couldn't jump on my own trampoline on the front deck. The curtains were closed and, when we left the house, we were followed.

"The moment we walked outside, cameras started flashing, reporters would be shouting questions and the circus would begin.

"People driving by would stick their fingers up and Dad, having a short temper, would chase them. Kids at school and opposing sporting teams would 'poke' fun at me. My family was all over TV and the back and front pages of the newspaper. It wasn't a great period.

"Dad was being portrayed like he was a murderer, which confused the heck out of me, because that was nothing like the man I saw at home day in, day out."

John Hopoate (bottom) interferes with an opponent.
John Hopoate (bottom) interferes with an opponent.

William Hopoate overcame the stigma attached to his surname to debut in the NRL in 2010 and go on to represent NSW and Tonga.

He credits his father for much of his success.

"Many fathers teach their children by example. They reinforce parental messages by showing their children what to do and demonstrating how to live their lives," he wrote.

"My dad took the opposite approach. He showed me exactly what not to do. John Hopoate was the crash test dummy of our family.

"I've asked Dad why he played the way he did. He told me he was just naturally aggressive and wanted to dominate and intimidate his opposing player.

"I know he didn't intentionally go looking for controversy, so when penalties came up for misbehaviour, it did frustrate him.

"There's no straightforward answer to why we are such different personalities. It's confusing for many people, and sometimes even me. What I do know is that I wouldn't be who or where I am today without the help of Dad.

"Has he made mistakes? Yes. Has he done dumb things? Sure has. Does he have a short temper? Absolutely. But you could say the same of a lot of people.

"They just don't have the profile of Dad, so their mistakes don't draw the same level of attention."