Des Hasler got the best out of Will Hopoate during their time together at Manly and Canterbury fans will be hoping the wily coach sparks him to form once again.
The NSW Origin winger will wear the crucial No.1 jumper to start the NRL season for the Bulldogs after Brett Morris was forced to undergo a second round of knee surgery which will keep him out for four months.
Morris was brought to Belmore last year to add attacking spark and the loss of the 18-Test and 11-Origin veteran leaves a big void in their line-up and places a big load on Hopoate’s shoulders after he moved to the Bulldogs from Parramatta.
But Hasler maintains the utmost faith in Hopoate, who he shares a strong history with.
Hasler brought the 23-year-old into the top grade at the Sea Eagles in 2010 and they won a premiership together in 2011 before going their separate ways; Hasler moved to Belmore and Hopoate went on a two-year Mormon mission.
Hopoate has arguably struggled to reach the same heights he did in his first stint in rugby league but Hasler says he’s a key acquisition for the Bulldogs.
“He played Origin last year so he’s a handy footballer,” Hasler said.
“He’s very professional about the way he goes about things.”
Rising 19-year-old fullback Brad Abbey trained and trialled with the first-grade side in the pre-season but Hasler said he was “no chance” of making a round-one debut although he isn’t far away from earning his first call-up.
Throughout the summer, Hopoate trained at centre, wing and fullback and Hasler said he shaped as a key plank of their campaign, praising his experience and ability to plug any hole in the three-quarter line.
“He’s played (at fullback) before so he’s adept,” Hasler said.
“He’s a good footballer, he has that string to his bow – that versatility.”