On the eve of the Manly Sea Eagles' historic Harold Matthews Cup Grand Final against the Newcastle Knights, we recap a chat with two of the side's biggest names. NSWRL.com.au spoke with Albert Hopoate and Ben Trbojevic in January at a NSWRL Pathways camp.
Peculiar as it might seem, Harold Matthews teammates Ben Trbojevic and Albert Hopoate barely discuss their NRL star older brothers.
“We don’t really talk about it,” Trbojevic tells NSWRL.com.au at this week’s NSWRL Under-16s and Under-18s Pathways camp. “We just want to make a name for ourselves.”
Both hailing from born-and-bred Rugby League families on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, the boys are by now used to the familiarity of their surnames. The Hopoate name has been known in Rugby League circles for more than two decades, with father John and brother Will both representing NSW and combining for almost 300 first grade games to date. Jake and Tom Trbojevic, meanwhile, burst onto the NRL scene in 2015 – and are now both being touted for State of Origin debuts.
The weight of expectation that comes from a famous last name can be difficult for two developing 15-year-olds to deal with – but both Ben and Albert see it as a blessing to have their bigger brothers’ guidance.
“That’s been everything,” Hopoate says of brother Will, who made a successful Origin debut at just 19 years of age. “He’s been a perfect example and I always try to ask tips from him.
“He’s always been there, always tries to come to my games and tells me where I need to improve.”
With 10 children, the Hopoate household has already proven to be a gold mine of Rugby League talent. It was vital to Albert’s development and has placed him well on the path to a potential NRL career.
“Every day you come home from school and play footy until seven o’clock at night,” Hopate adds. “If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be the player I am today.”
Will Hopoate, who will hope to add to his five Origin appearances this year, is a prime example of what Albert could achieve. Like his older brother, the 16-year-old is a talented winger and centre and was named 19th man for the NSW Under-16 side a year young last year. He has high hopes of securing a starting spot for the 2017 Origin III curtain-raiser.
“That gave me a little hope, knowing that I should be in the team this year; it just gave me that little bit of motivation,” Hopoate says. “I’ve just come (to NSWRL Pathways camp) to improve the areas that I can improve – just trying to be my best and to make my best better.”
At the Sea Eagles, Manly Warringah District Junior Rugby League and the Mona Vale Raiders, the Trbojevics are well known. Despite their recent rise to the top, Tom (20) and Jake Trbojevic (22) are regularly seen volunteering their time at the grass roots level, alongside parents John and Melissa. With Jake and Tom both selected in the 2017 Emerging Blues squad, Ben is also grateful for his brothers’ support.
“It’s pretty cool, watching them on the field,” Trbojevic says. “I want to play NRL when I’m older and they’re really good, they always take me to games and tell me how I can improve.”
Already towering over his teammates in the NSW Under-16s Pathways squad, Ben bears a striking appearance to Tom, who is considered the Sea Eagles’ long-term fullback. It is workhorse forward Jake, however, who Ben most wants to emulate – and who he thinks is most likely to win the race for an Origin debut.
“I like tackling, like Jake,” Trbojevic says simply. “If one of them had to make it (into the NSW VB Blues team this year) it’d be him.”
Trbojevic and Hopoate are just two of many potential superstars to line up in the 2017 Harold Matthews Cup, beginning on Saturday, 11 February. If they can follow in the footsteps of their brothers, it could be the first stage in long and successful NRL careers.