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NRL debut just another 'game' for Lehi Hopoate

Lehi Hopoate has revealed the secret behind his outstanding NRL debut – just treat it like any other ‘SG Ball’ game.

The exciting 19-year-old full-back could not have dreamed of a better start to his NRL career, shining brightly in Manly’s thrilling 26-20 win over the Melbourne Storm in NRL Indigenous Round at 4 Pines Park on Friday night.

A proud local junior who rose through the Manly pathways program, Hopoate had trained with the Sea Eagles all week following concerns over full-back Tolu Koula’s shoulder injury.

Manly Coach Anthony Seibold informed the youngster of his NRL debut at the team’s final training run the day before the game.

Hopoate came out and smashed it, finishing with 16 runs, two try assists, three tackle breaks, and 113 run metres.

A humble, and cheeky, Hopoate later confessed that he didn’t expect to make such a big impact.

“Nah, I thought it was going to be much worse, to be honest,’’ Hopoate said, with a laugh.

“But yeah, just grateful for the opportunity and glad to get the win.

Right at home...Lehi Hopoate takes on the Storm in his superb NRL debut
Right at home...Lehi Hopoate takes on the Storm in his superb NRL debut ©NRL Photos

“When I got the call up, I was actually so nervous that it was the Storm. To debut at Brookie…I was born and raised here. I played a couple of games here for Harold Matts, SG Ball, so to get my debut here is very special.

“I’ve got great support around me (in) ‘Snake’ (Brett Stewart), ‘Turbo’, my father, my brother. They have given me important advice.

“They just told me to go out there and act like it is an SG Ball game. That’s what I ended up doing.

“The whole week, I was like tremendously (nervous). Being an 8pm game, just sitting with my thoughts all day, it was terrible.”

“The coaching staff just told me to get an early touch and make all your nerves go away.

“It was the biggest relief (taking the first high ball). I was thinking about it in the warm up. I just wanted to get into my groove.

“I was on standby until the captain’s run so I didn’t really think that I was playing. When they ended up telling me on Thursday, I was just so shocked.

“I still can’t believe I just debut.  All my family were here in the corner, so I got to speak to my Mum and Dad after the game. It was probably my proudest moment.

“My Mum was telling me how proud she was. That’s one of my biggest accomplishments, to see how happy she was, that I was able to give her that. I was just so happy for them.”

Love....Lehi Hopoate celebrates with his family afterwards
Love....Lehi Hopoate celebrates with his family afterwards ©NRL Photos

As for when his next NRL game could be through, Hopoate is just taking it in his stride.

“Of course, that’s the goal, but even if I don’t, everything happens for a reason. I’m just looking to play some consistent footy whether it be in (NSW) Cup or NRL,’’ he added.

“I’m just going day by day. I don’t want to think too much of the future. Just trying to stay present and stay mindful, and that will bring my best performance.”

Hopoate also expressed his gratefulness to Tom Trbojevic and Stewart for all the work and advice they had put in with him.

“At the start of the pre-season, I was just picking out Turbo’s and Snake’s ears. They are probably two of the best full-backs in the last decade or so,’’ he said, with a smile.

“To just have them as support, it makes my game much easier and much better too.

“Snake and Turbo just told me to go out there and play my natural game. They really gave me confidence to go out there and just pretend it was a normal game.”



Acknowledgement of Country

Manly Warringah Sea Eagles respect and honour the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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