Master vs the apprentice in battle of no.1's
The master fullback takes on the apprentice as Manly’s Brett Stewart goes head-to-head with Parramatta’s Will Hopoate at Pirtek Stadium on Friday night.
In what is expected to be a confrontational encounter between two rival sides, the battle of the fullbacks is set to be a mouth-watering clash.
Manly’s Stewart scored 10 tries and tallied 20 try-assists in 22 appearances last season, proving the spark in the Sea Eagles’ attack as they fell just one position short of top-spot.
Despite playing most of his junior footy in the no.1 jumper, Hopoate’s transition to fullback will no doubt be one watched very closely.
In his maiden season with the blue and gold, Hopoate scored just four tries in 19 matches, however in a role where he will see more of the ball, expect the 22-year-old to top his try tally in 2015.
The two fullbacks could well hold the key to their side’s chances, as they will look to exploit the tiring forwards up the middle.
Speed is a beautiful fixation on the footy field and there is nothing more beautiful than seeing Stewart in full flight.
He has the acceleration and pace to chop up opposition teams and his blistering speed can catch forwards off their guard through the middle and leave outside backs chasing their tails.
Let's not forget why Stewart is at the back. The talk from behind the defence line is a true reflection of his leadership and character amongst his Manly teammates.
Hopoate, who served his apprenticeship under Stewart and most recently Jarryd Hayne, says playing alongside the Sea Eagles ace fullback during his time at Manly assisted him in his growth.
“'Snake' was a great impact on me at Manly as a kid. There are things that he taught me that I valued and still remember. I'm grateful for those little lessons," he said.
Stewart recognised Hopoate’s natural talent and said it wouldn’t take long for him to fulfil his full potential in the no.1 jersey.
“I don’t think he needs any advice. I’m quite chuffed that he’s said some kind words but Will has been a great player ever since he was coming through the juniors,” Stewart said.
“I don’t think I coached him much coming through at all. It was all pretty natural and I expect to see that on Friday night. He’s just a natural player and very gifted.
“I think it might take him a few games to get used to it. He obviously played centre last year and he also had a couple of years off. From all reports he’s had a good preseason and I don’t think there is anyone that’s said a bad word about him. I’ve got a lot of respect for him.”
Regardless of the result on Saturday night, expect an exhilarating display of finesse and speed from these two stars of the game.