Where there's Will there's a way for Eels

By Parramatta coach Ricky Stuart's own admission, the answer to one of his many prayers as he rebuilds the club is knocking on doors on Brisbane's outskirts and preaching religion as a Mormon missionary.

A week after advising a dozen Parramatta players, including former international Reni Maitua, popular club stalwart Ben Smith and hooker Matt Keating, that their days in the blue and gold were numbered, Stuart made it clear former Manly and NSW Origin star William Hopoate featured prominently in his plans for next season and beyond.

Hopoate, who left rugby league just days after winning the 2011 grand final with Manly to serve his two-year mission as a member of the Church of Latter-day Saints, was recruited to the Eels by former coach Stephen Kearney on a two-year deal worth $1.7 million.

Kearney, who is now Anthony Griffin's assistant coach at Brisbane, revealed at the time part of the reason for outlaying a king's ransom for a teenage footballer poised to have an extended break from the rough and tumble was because, apart from his God-given athletic talents, he offered outstanding leadership qualities.

As Stuart sets about fulfilling his brief to rebuild the club's culture after Parramatta had made little impact on the premiership since their shock appearance in the 2009 grand final, he couldn't fault Kearney's faith in Hopoate, who turned 21 last month.

"Will is very important in regards to the [club's] future," said Stuart. "He's a good person too, and that's really important. He's a good bloke, 'Hoppa', and I was very fortunate to have his involvement in an Origin game in 2011 and I very much enjoyed his ability and involvement.

"He'll fit right in here, he'll fit in with his personality.

"He's a young player we need to build around, and I think we're doing that with the two internationals coming from England [forwards Gareth Hock and Lee Mossop] and [Brisbane's ] Corey Norman.

"Then there's the other players we'll get. We'll just keep focusing on being a competitive football team."

According to Hopoate's manager, former New Zealand international Tyran Smith, Parramatta's conditioner Ciriaco Mescia had formulated a training program aimed to allow Hopoate to slot straight back into a gruelling pre-season training campaign.

And, due to the restrictions placed upon Hopoate that forbid him from interacting socially with people from outside the church, watching television or listening to rock music, the Eels have set up a gymnasium in his garage.

"Parramatta have taken the gym to Will," Smith said. "He also has a park across the road where he does his running."

Hopoate's time in Brisbane has enhanced his reputation as a young leader on the rise with Smith revealing he was in charge of all the missionaries, including those from the Philippines, New Zealand and USA, serving in Queensland.

"Any missionary with a problem, any difficulties or a question report directly to Will," said Smith. "He's just underneath the president. That leadership is a trait Parramatta will be happy to have, I'm sure."

Click here to keep in touch with the world of sport via SMH Sport’s Facebook page.

The story Where there's Will there's a way for Eels first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

Tablet - Narrow
Tablet - Wide