The NRL never ceases to throw up Hollywood scripts, and this match-up is no different. The Sea Eagles and Eels, the bitterest of rivals, will extend their decades-old feud into a new season as one-time Sea Eagle William Hopoate dons the blue and gold at Brookvale Oval this Sunday.
A premiership winner with Manly, Hopoate now attempts to drag the Eels from the cellar and emulate his 2011 heroics. Standing in the way is Steve Matai, his three-quarter partner for much of his brief peninsula career.
Without scoring against the Warriors, Hopoate’s first outing in two years was classy. Besides two try assists, including a brilliant no-look pass, he made 12 runs for 119m, and while New Zealand’s attack was concentrated down the Eels’ left, he completed 11 tackles for just two missed. He was, however, unable to stop Manu Vatuvei’s barnstorming try, exposing a weakness in Parramatta’s right edge.
The Sea Eagles will surely target Hopoate’s flank with another Kiwi giant, Matai, determined to add to his six career tries against Parramatta – his second-most prolific try scoring opponent. Three of the Sea Eagles’ four tries were down the left side in round one with two of those to the 94-kilogram centre.
Conversely, Matai will have to be alert to the budding combination of Hopoate and Vai Toutai with Jarryd Hayne always poised to create or finish. Matai is a notorious heavy hitter but his defensive reads – in the air and on the ground – need to be accurate against a revitalised Parramatta outfit, especially after two tries surged through his gates against the Storm.
On Sunday, Hopoate’s homecoming may be short-lived as Matai seeks to defend a Fortress that has already been breached once this season. In his last match at Brookvale in 2011, Hopoate scored a double... but so did Matai. Get ready for fireworks.