Hopoate’s test begins


The Canberra Raiders have picked up another distressed asset, securing the signature of out-of-work young star Albert Hopoate on a one year deal for 2021 (reported first by the Daily Telegraph). You’ve heard it all about Hopoate. The most talented player in his age group, a freak of player, an undeniable talent. All the potential in the world. Now, Canberra gets to see if he can put it together.

It’s a good signing and part of the intelligent approach the Raiders take to bringing in talent. When you can’t sign people at the top of the market, you get them at their lowest, and hopefully reap the benefits when meet their potential. With a stable roster already in place, there’s only upside in a gamble like this. Like the signature of Ryan James, Canberra will win big if it pays off, and lose nothing if it doesn’t.

The Green Machine are also backing their club and their culture to bring out the best in Hopoate. Stuart’s approach in the past has been clear. Bring in proven leaders to help establish organisational norms, and mentor developing players. It means players like Hopoate will have a clear role, expectations to meet, and support from people who aren’t determining his playing time. The side’s emphasis on defence in recent years, and its willingness to hold players accountable if they’re not upholding those standards (like Curtis Scott early in 2020) means those with concerns about his defence (like your boy) won’t have to worry about it costing the Milk competition points. If he doesn’t aim up, he won’t play. The club have proven that much.

He’s reportedly depth behind Curtis Scott and Bailey Simonsson, but it seems the promise of opportunity was a big part of him making the trip. I’m sure Sticky and Peter Mulholland have used that promise as an incentive to bring Hopoate (and Aekins) to town. But this also highlights the problem of certainty in the back five we’ve been harping on since the season ended. I’d put him at the back end of the depth chart for now, behind the baby Raiders. Yes he’s unquestionably talented, but two ACLs for an outside back is hardly ideal. It’s also hard to not wonder why this unquestionably talented player was pushed out the door in Manly. Only time will tell if he (or his father) was a “clubhouse” problem.

The cost of the deal is reportedly less than 100k for the season. Given the minimum wage for a top 30 player was 105k in 2020, it could simply be a reflection of his pay being calculated pro-rata. It could also mean that the Rugby League Players Association and the NRL have finally reached a deal on what the 2021 salary cap will look like. Or some mix of the two. This minimum wage deal could be the sticking point for Canberra. If Hopoate plays out of his skin, he’ll be demanding a bigger deal within months. That problem, should it come to pass, is one that good clubs have because they have too many good players.

The deal also provides a clue to the Raiders pathway over the next few weeks. With Hopoate’s signature, Kai O’Donnell and Elijah Anderson’s development deals now in place, Canberra have one top 30 spot left. Jordan Rapana and his partner welcomed a small child into the world this week. What better way to celebrate such a joy by signing a new deal with the Green Machine.

Hopoate joins with nothing but upside, and it’s clear the Raiders are going to give him a shot. The promise of game time and the success of the club brought him here. He’ll be given every opportunity to prove his worth.

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