Hopoate warns NRL bad boys of jail
Reformed Broncos rookie Jamil Hopoate has vivid flashbacks when he hears and reads about the series of recent off-field scandals involving NRL players.
The son of former Manly bad boy John Hopoate is a living, breathing example of the heavy price a budding NRL star can pay for a moment of madness - and the long, painful road back to redemption.
Hopoate is currently playing for his career at the Brisbane Broncos. Signed to a train-and-trial contract, he made his Broncos debut last week in a trial against Souths Logan at Warwick, impressing with his muscular physique and bruising midfield charges.
But it was after the full-time siren, when he spoke to this columnist, detailing his shameful march to a stint behind bars, that Hopoate really impressed.
He is a man trying to change. This is his final crack at the NRL.
Hopoate was jailed in 2014 for the brutal assault of a man in Sydney. He was only 19. He celebrated his 20th birthday, the passing of his teen years, shedding tears in jail.
Now, at age 24, Hopoate has come to appreciate what shapes as his final chance to atone for his sins.
While his brother, Bulldogs ace Will, is an NRL poster boy, having embarked on a religious mission, Jamil is trying to repair a shattered reputation.
So when he sees the recent off-field dramas involving Dylan Napa, Ben Barba and other NRL stars - some of which may not be as legally serious but damaging for the code's image nonetheless - Hopoate has chilling words of advice.
"Will (Hopoate) is an example of what to do and I am a perfect example of what not to do," says Hopoate, who was released after serving nine months of his 18-month sentence.
"I got locked up at age 19, I turned 20 in jail.
"At age 21 I wanted to play first grade and the NRL knocked me back.
"Now I'm 24 and I still haven't made my first-grade debut, so that's four or five years that have gone down the drain."
Hopoate isn't proud of his unlawful past.
The hulking back-rower pleaded guilty to two counts of assault occasioning actual bodily harm after he and a group of friends punched and kicked a man outside a Manly pub.
The court heard the attack was "savage and unprovoked". Hopoate's lawyers appealed for their client to be spared a jail term because of his age and the likely effect on his mental health.
The magistrate disagreed, saying: "There needs to be accountability for this kind of behaviour and recognition for the harm done to the community."
Upon sentencing, a devastated Jamil removed his tie and jewellery and handed it to his shattered father John.
Now a father himself to a young daughter, Jamil took the first steps to reformation last year with a stint with Intrust Super Cup feeder-club Redcliffe. Over summer, he was cleared to return to the big time.
"I met with up the Integrity Unit and they thought I was rehabilitated from my incident and I had changed. They saw I changed and now I'm here," he says.
"It means the world to me to get back in a full-time system from where I have been, after finally getting cleared in the off-season.
"Jail is no place for anyone. Dad just told me to focus, knuckle down and scrap all the partying and all the bullshit.
"Now I am putting my best foot forward and hopefully 'Seibs' (Brisbane coach Anthony Seibold) sees that and chooses me one day.
"It was scary in jail. No-one wants to ever go through that, I don't wish it upon anyone.
"But it's made me the man I am today … now I want to be a better person and role model for my daughter."