Jamil Hopoate says he is the "perfect example" to all players in the game about the pitfalls of bad behaviour as he looks to make up for lost time and secure a full-time NRL contract.
The 24-year-old forward, who starred in the back row in his Brisbane Broncos debut in the 42-nil trial win over Souths-Logan on Saturday night, spent nine months in jail after assaulting a man outside a Sydney hotel in 2014.
Hopoate’s time in prison stalled what was a promising rugby league career but also was a catalyst for changing his ways and doing his young daughter and family proud.
He was given approval last October by the NRL Integrity Unit to play in the NRL, just one month after inspiring the Redcliffe Dolphins to the Intrust Super Cup title.
The brother of respected Bulldog Will Hopoate, Jamil said his own experience should be a warning to players about the importance of making the right choices.
“Will is an example of what to do and I am a perfect example of what not to do,” Jamil said.
“I got locked up. I was 19, and turned 20 inside. At 21 I went to play first grade and the NRL knocked me back. I’m 24 now and still haven’t got a debut so that is four or five years of my career that have gone down the drain that I could have been playing first grade.
“No-one wants to go through that but it has made me the man I am today. I have changed my ways and now I am trying to be a better person and role model for my daughter.
I love footy and I just want to be a good role model for my daughter and for my familyJamil Hopoate
“It was scary [in jail], but I was more disappointed in myself that I was wasting time. Your footy career is so short. I felt like I was letting not just myself but my family down as well.”
Hopoate is signed to the Redcliffe Dolphins and is on a train and trial deal at the Brisbane Broncos.
“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. I met with up the Integrity Unit and they thought I was rehabilitated from my incident and I had changed,” he said.
“I am on a train and trial here so hopefully they can give me a top 30 spot and I would be over the moon, for my daughter and for my family.
“I met with Canterbury [last year] and they said they had money issues, and that was it. The Broncos got hold of my management and now I am here. I am so excited to be here."
Hopoate said Brisbane legend Darren Lockyer was “his all-time favourite” player and has also been inspired by brother Will, his father John Hopoate and relatives Willie Manu and Tame Tupou, who both played NRL.
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John Hopoate, who has had his own issues off the field, gave his son some sage advice when he was in prison. He followed it, and is now on the cusp of achieving his dream.
“Jail is no place for anyone. He just told me to focus, knuckle down and scrap all the partying,” Jamil said.
“It would mean the world to me [to get a full-time deal]. I love footy and I just want to be a good role model for my daughter and for my family.
“Now I am putting my best foot forward and hopefully Seibs [Brisbane coach Anthony Seibold] sees that and chooses me one day. I am happy with the club I am at…and I have got the perfect staff to get me where I want to go.”
Hopoate has been named on the bench for the trial clash with Wynnum-Manly on Saturday night.