John Hopoate (born 16 January 1974) is a former professional rugby league footballer, and boxer. A Tonga, Australia and New South Wales State of Origin representative winger, he played in the NRL for Sydney clubs, the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles (with whom he won the 1996 Premiership), Wests Tigers and the Northern Eagles. Hopoate also became the Australian Heavyweight Boxing Champion. He was born in Tonga, but moved to Australia with his family while he was still young and took up the game of rugby league.
Hopoate in 2008
|Born||16 January 1974|
|Height||182 cm (6 ft 0 in)|
|Weight||104 kg (16 st 5 lb)|
Hopoate began his professional league career with Manly-Warringah while he was nineteen years of age, and was also selected for the Tonga national team. Hopoate did not play as a regular first-grade player until two years later in 1995 where he showed his ability by scoring 21 tries, finishing second in the top try-scoring table to teammate Steve Menzies. After many controversies his reputation became greatly tarnished and his career continued on a downhill slide, seeing him become the "most suspended player of the modern era". In 2018 he was given a 10-year ban from any involvement in rugby league.
Childhood and early careerEdit
Born in Nukuʻalofa, Tonga on 16 January 1974, Hopoate moved with his family to Australia and he originally lived and grew up in the Manly area of Sydney before moving to the western suburbs as a teenager. Former Australian international Bob Fulton recruited Hopoate to his former club at Manly after remembering his skill and power while witnessing him play as a junior for his Manly Cove side before then going on to represent the under nineteen New South Wales side. Hopoate is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles (1993–99)Edit
Hopoate signed for the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles club in 1993 making his first grade debut against the Canberra Raiders at Brookvale Oval 6 June the same year. He played for Tonga in the 1994 Pacific Cup, however he was in and out of the first grade side on a regular basis, not holding down a regular position until 1995.
Hopoate's early season form in 1995 was sublime as he went on to score eleven tries from his first eleven first grade appearances and subsequently lead the try scoring table. After his spectacular form and try scoring feats during the 1995 season Hopoate was called up to his first senior representative match for New South Wales in game one of the 1995 State of Origin series. After a decent performance from Hopoate he was retained for the second game but then subsequently dropped from the third game because of an injury.
Over the remaining rounds of the 1995 ARL season Hopoate went on to score a total of twenty-one tries and became instrumental in Manly's good form leading into the finals series. His talent was not enough to help the Manly side to a grand final victory as they eventually lost to the Bulldogs.
With Tonga looking to pick Hopoate for his nation of birth for the 1995 World Cup, Australia took no chances and instead called him up to the Kangaroos side under the residency ruling. He was selected in the opening match of the cup yet failed to score and then made a vital mistake that turned out to be the turning point in a match that was eventually won by Australia's opponents England. Hopoate also played in Australia's following match against the South Africans, scoring three times in a crushing 86 to 6 victory.
Hopoate's fourth season at Manly was one where he was again instrumental in his team's fortunes, while he began the season slowly in comparison to his previous year with only five tries over the first twenty rounds of the season his defence had improved immensely; helping his side to concede less tries down his side of the field. He went on to score another six tries for the season including four in one game against the South Sydney Rabbitohs and ultimately help his Manly side to their first premiership in over eight years.
In the 1997 season Hopoate again started the season off slowly on the try scoring front with only another two tries in twelve appearances for the club before turning his fortunes around in round twelve match against the St. George Dragons where he scored three tries before continuing his form from then on scoring eight in his next six games and a total of fifteen for the season.
Wests Tigers (2000–01)Edit
Signing for the newly formed Wests Tigers in 2000 Hopoate scored five tries during the season. He was suspended several times during the season, including being charged with 'contrary conduct' in a late season fixture against Melbourne resulting from over ten separate incidents in that game.
In 2001 he began the season poorly scoring only one try in several appearances before causing international headlines after a regular season game against the North Queensland Cowboys where Hopoate had been inserting his fingers into the backsides of several players, allegedly in an attempt to unsettle and upset his opposition. After a long NRL Judiciary case Hopoate was suspended for twelve weeks and then mutually agreed to part ways with the Tigers club.
On-field sexual assaultsEdit
During a 2001 clash with the North Queensland Cowboys, Hopoate tried to unsettle his opponents by inserting a finger in three players' anuses, the first occurring during the seventh minute of play. The matter was immediately referred to the rugby league judiciary on 28 March. Hopoate was suspended for 12 weeks for what one Commissioner described as "disgusting, violent, offensive behaviour".
Hopoate claimed in front of the panel of judges that he was just trying to give all three players a wedgie with his fingers, denying he had done anything wrong and that he was "a great believer in what happens on the field should stay there".
The three victims in the case, Cowboys players Glenn Morrison, Peter Jones and Paul Bowman all disagreed with Hopoate's reasoning. According to Jones, "It wasn't a wedgie. That's when your pants are pulled up your arse. I think I know the difference between a wedgie and someone sticking their finger up my bum", while Bowman said he was "disgusted" and "couldn't believe it". Hopoate was found guilty of 'unsportsmanlike interference'.
Northern Eagles (2001–02)Edit
As he had publicly humiliated both himself and his former club, most thought his career would be over. However, his former employers in the Manly reserve grade side signed him onto their books for the remainder of the season where his good form earned him a call-up to the Northern Eagles first grade side late in the season.
The following year his form finally began to pick up as he went on to score ten tries for the Eagles before the club disbanded in 2003.
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles (2003–05)Edit
With the reinstating of the Sea Eagles for the beginning of the 2003 season Hopoate was signed on to the club where he originally made his debut for ten years earlier. He began the season well with several impressive performances but again his on field indiscretions were the only headlines he was achieving.
The following two seasons were poor for Hopoate with several on field and off field incidents earning him both fines and suspensions. His final foul-up occurred during a match in the 2005 season against the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks, Hopoate attempted a reckless "shoulder charge" making contact to the head of forward Keith Galloway with his elbow. This was seen as the last straw for Hopoate by both his Manly club and the National Rugby League and his career was effectively over. He made a final statement on the Sea Eagles website thanking his fans and supporters and apologising to his wife Brenda and eight children.
In the 2003 season Hopoate breached the terms of his playing contract by playing in a fifth-grade rugby union match in the Sydney competition on 9 June under a false name in an attempt to not get caught. After his Manly club found out and confronted Hopoate he admitted that he had breached his contract and was then fined $5000.
During the 2004 club season, Hopoate become involved in more controversy. While leaving the field at the conclusion of a match Hopoate started a heated argument with a touch judge in which he verbally abused the official. Hopoate was given a lengthy suspension by the NRL.
In the round one clash with the New Zealand Warriors, Hopoate verbally abused a 14-year-old rugby league ball boy who had placed the ball on the sideline of the field rather than throwing it infield to the Manly player. The incident was placed under review with the National Rugby League finding that ball boy had acted in the guidelines set out and Hopoate was in the wrong over his verbal assault. Hopoate then apologised to the young boy claiming that "he was not aware of the proper interpretation of the rule" and was in the wrong.
Keith Galloway incidentEdit
On 19 March 2005, Hopoate was again in trouble with the NRL, this time in a match against the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks. During the 30th minute of the game he made a charge at Cronulla forward Keith Galloway with his elbow in a cocked position jumping and striking Galloway in the head immediately knocking him unconscious, leaving him on the field with a laceration to and bleeding from his ear. After immediate review from the third official Hopoate was sent from the field for the remainder of the match while Galloway was stretchered from the field in a neck brace and took no further part in the game.
At the conclusion of the match, the NRL match review committee immediately referred Hopoate's case straight to the NRL Judiciary. On 22 March, Hopoate had his case called up to the judiciary, his lawyer and coach attempted to argue that he was doing nothing more than "trying to go for a shoulder charge" and that his raised arm was just an attempt to protect his ribs. His contrition carried little weight with the panel and ultimately his defence failed to convince anyone that he had done nothing wrong and he was given a seventeen-game suspension. With his season over, his loyal club that had stood by him through many of his career indiscretions decided they had no other choice than to terminate his contract with immediate effect on 23 March 2005.
With the termination of his Sea Eagles contract effectively bringing to an end his days of playing rugby league, Hopoate announced that he would begin training in an attempt to undertake a career in professional boxing.
On 17 May 2006 he fought in his first professional boxing bout, on the undercard of the Anthony Mundine and Danny Green fight. Hopoate won his debut after only 47 seconds of the opening round, knocking out Frank "The Big Ship" Faasolo.
After the quick victory, Hopoate challenged former professional rugby league footballer Mark Geyer to a fight, citing his reasons as being "I know he hates being bagged, but for him to go sit behind a magazine and bag other players, I don't like that". Geyer turned down the challenge on the NRL Footy Show the following week.
Instead, he followed-up against New Zealand fighter Alex Mene on 4 August, whom he defeated with a somewhat controversial fourth round technical knockout after the referee called a halt to the bout.
Hopoate's third fight was against Ipswich Brothers rugby league prop forward Anthony Fowler. The pair had previously fought during an under-17 representative match 15 years earlier, but Fowler found little opportunity to trade blows with Hopoate as he was left motionless on the canvas after just 34 seconds of his only professional boxing appearance.
Subsequently, he defeated two more heavyweights from New Zealand during bouts in Queensland. Hopoate first put a finish to one-sided event against Oscar Talemaira with a first-round technical knockout on 17 November. He then knocked out Hiriwa Te Rangi on 24 February 2007 after a stiffer contest that lasted five rounds, his longest fight to date.
Hopoate then moved to a 6–0 record by dispatching the heavy-hitting Richard "Tootin'" Tutaki with a series of second round body-blows on 7 March 2007 at the Sydney Entertainment Centre, again on an Anthony Mundine undercard. Lovemore N'dou, the IBF junior welterweight champion, said after watching the bout that Hopoate is an embarrassment to the sport of boxing, and that he was disgusted with what he saw. As part of his scathing criticism of Hopoate, as well as Willie Mason's older brother Les, N'dou said: "Footballers like them thinking they can box turns what is a scientific and artistic sport into a circus. They are making fools out of themselves and fools out of a sport I love. I despise them and everything they stand for".
On 30 March 2007, Hopoate experienced his first defeat, which came by Brian Fitzgerald. The result, a split decision after six rounds, proved controversial and inspired Hopoate to say, "I'm being vilified again. It obviously has something to do with my playing days. I know I'm going to be 'John Hopoate' for the rest of my life. But I've tried to take a new road and I thought I was going along good, until this. They are racist cause I'm from Tonga, it's not bloody right. I never get a fair go from Aussies".
On 13 April 2007, Hopoate suffered his second straight loss, inflicted by former national kickboxing champion, Ben Edwards, who was making his professional boxing debut. Hopoate's performance, which was brought to an abrupt end by technical knockout after just 90 seconds of the first round, was jeered and ridiculed by the 200-odd paying spectators, several of whom were seen to throw plastic beer cups in the direction of Hopoate. With three further bouts scheduled before July, he aimed to continue his career. However, following his earlier criticism, Lovemore N'dou has commented that Hopoate needs to "learn to fight properly", as well as the more inflammatory "Hoppa should stop putting his finger up other guys anuses "; however, has now offered to help him out at no charge.
On 10 September 2008, Hopoate became Australian heavyweight boxing champion. The Sydney fighter finished defending champion Bob Mirovic deep into the ninth round of an epic bout at the Gold Coast convention centre.
Hopoate cornered "The Big Bear" Mirovic and hit him with more than six clean punches to knock the 42-year-old to the floor. Mirovic got to his feet but his trainer Jeff Fenech threw in the towel to end the fight.
After the title fight, controversy ensued, Mirovic claiming that Hopoate used illegal tactics during the bout which resulted in Mirovic having his arm broken. Mirovic believes he was illegally shoved to the ground in the sixth round, which left him with a broken arm and no hope of carrying on."I couldn't throw a punch for the final three rounds because of what Hoppa did," Mirovic said.
"I'd cop it on the chin if I lost the fight fair and square, but there's no way I'll sit back if something illegal was done to me. It was a dog act by Hoppa. I can't do anything now for three months and I'm demanding Hoppa doesn't fight anybody else until he gives me a rematch."
He fought Cliff Couser on 20 March 2009 and won the fight by technical knockout after Couser did not answer the bell for the fourth round.
Hopoate fought Oliver McCall on 22 May 2009 for the International Boxing Association (IBA) Intercontinental heavyweight title in a fight which he lost by second-round technical knockout after being knocked down twice in the fight.
He fought Bob Mirovic again on 23 July 2009, beating him on points after a gruelling 10-round match.
Hopoate fought Colin Wilson on 10 October 2009, on the undercard of the David Tua and Shane Cameron fight. Hopoate started the fight well scoring a knock down in the third round, before Colin Wilson came back from the knock down to knock Hopoate down late in the same round. Wilson went on to win the fight knocking Hopoate out in the fourth round.
Hopoate then fought Shane Cameron on 20 March 2010, losing the fight by disqualification in the second round after Hopoate wrestled with Cameron and tried throwing him to the ground more than he tried throwing punches.
On 20 December 2018, Hopoate agreed to return to the ring to fight Cronulla player Paul Gallen with the match being scheduled for 9 February 2019. Hopoate was knocked out in the second round of the bout. He said afterwards "I got caught by a good punch and I can’t hide from that, I went to sleep and fell over".
In December 2010 Hopoate was charged with assault occasioning actual bodily harm and affray following an incident at the Trademark Hotel in Kings Cross where he worked. Hopoate was employed as a Responsible Service of Alcohol marshall and not for security.
In May 2016 Hopoate was arrested and charged with common assault after an incident involving an employee of a Crows Nest supermarket. Hopoate subsequently pleaded guilty. He was sentenced to a $1500 fine and an 18-month good behaviour bond.
Post playing careerEdit
In 2016, Hopoate started coaching Manly's S. G. Ball Cup side until The NRL claimed the former international was not of fit and proper character to mentor young and impressionable men, threatening the Sea Eagles with a breach notice if they didn't stand Hopoate down. The NRL then released a statement saying "He is not registered to coach. Mr Hopoate has taken the matter to the Supreme Court. The NRL is contesting his case and has not changed its stance at all". In a bizarre social media post, Hopoate wrote "I'm back, NRL asked if we can withdraw the court proceedings cause they don't have juristriction over SG Ball, so I can coach this week Cheeho! Following up with the hashtag: “#NoHardFeelingsTimeToMoveOnAndLetThePastBeThePast#”. But the NRL quickly denied it had cleared Hopoate to coach, tweeting from its NRL Media account: "The NRL has NOT cleared John Hopoate to coach Manly’s SG Ball side". On 30 July 2016, Hopoate was forced to pay legal costs after he dropped his court case against The NRL. The NRL threatened to fine Manly $1 Million dollars and Hopoate $100,000 dollars if he continued coaching the court heard.
In October 2017, Hopoate joined The Tongan camp for The 2017 rugby league world cup. In the build up to the tournament New Zealand player Adam Blair commented on Jason Taumalolo's defection to Tonga saying "You've got to be a man and own up to what you want to do, If you were man enough, you'd make the phone call and tell them". On 12 October, Hopoate responded to Blair's comments saying "Who the hell is Adam Blair to come and say that?, They don't say anything when we name him in our team and that they were meant to turn up for a camp – they name him and take him out of our team, So what are they complaining about? He wants to come play for his heritage and who the hell is Adam Blair?.I'll bash Adam Blair I don't care.
On 24 July 2018, Hopoate was charged by the NSWRL for punching opposition players while playing for the Narraweena Hawks against Forestville in a local A Grade match. It was alleged that Hopoate also threatened players of the Forestville Ferrets side. He was subsequently banned from all involvement in rugby league for 10 years.
On 17 November 2018, Hopoate played for Manly in the Legends of League charity event. He was allowed to participate because the event was not sanctioned by the NSWRL. Hopoate courted controversy as he wore a rubber glove on one hand during a match against Newcastle, referencing his 12-week suspension in 2001 for sticking his finger into the anus of opposition players. The media branded the prank "grubby" and "repulsive".
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- NRL Stats[permanent dead link]
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- Gandon, Mike (22 September 2008). "Big Bob seeks rematch with Hopoate". Illawarra Mercury. Retrieved 22 December 2010.
- Nicolussi, Christian (18 September 2008). "Boxer Bob Mirovic says John Hopoate broke his arm". News.com.au. Retrieved 19 August 2010.
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- "Paul Gallen to fight retired rugby league identity John Hopoate". NewsComAu. 20 December 2018. Retrieved 25 June 2020.
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- Levy, Megan (26 May 2016). "John Hopoate charged with assaulting employee at Crows Nest supermarket". The Sydney Morning Herald.
- Kembrey, Meanie (18 June 2016). "Former NRL player John Hopoate pleads guilty over supermarket assault". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 18 June 2016.
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- Bailey, Scott (15 August 2018). "John Hopoate receives 10-year rugby league ban". news.com.au. Retrieved 15 August 2018.
- "John Hopoate: Former Australia and NRL player given 10-year ban". BBC Sport. 15 August 2018. Retrieved 25 June 2020.
- "Will Hopoate details the impact of his father's infamous acts". news.com.au. 17 November 2018. Retrieved 19 November 2018.
- Boxing record for John Hopoate from BoxRec
- John Hopoate's Sportsplayer Management Company
- Soaring Sea Eagles player profile
- John Hopoate try scoring record
- State of Origin Official website Rugby League player stats
|Awards and achievements|
|Australian heavyweight Championship||Succeeded by|