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20 stars for 2021 | Albert Hopoate

Although his start in the top grade was halted by consecutive ACL injuries, 2020 saw Albert Hopoate make his highly anticipated Sea Eagles debut in Round 16 against eventual NRL Premiers the Melbourne Storm.

His NRL career looked set to begin in a Warriors jersey after being loaned to Todd Payten’s side but within a fortnight he returned to Brookvale following a season-ending injury to outside back utility Brendan Elliot, which opened the door for Hopoate to finally get his start.

It took Hopoate a matter of weeks to find his feet and have a performance that Des Hasler knew he was capable of, which came in a victory over the Bulldogs in Round 18 when he recorded one line-break assist, four tackle-breaks, two offloads, 139 run metres including 57 post-contact and six tackles with just one missed.

A former dual-code Australian Schoolboys representative, Hopoate raised plenty of eyebrows with strong seasons for the Sea Eagles’ UNE Harold Matthews and SG Ball Cup teams. In 2017 he also gained selection in the CABE NSW Under-16s team, where he set up the match-sealing try by evading a handful of defenders his own in-goal area before putting Bradman Best into space for a 22-16 win.

While the Sea Eagles have improved their outside back stocks with the off-season signings of Christian Tuipulotu (Sydney Roosters) and Jason (St George Illawarra Dragons), Hopoate has been picked up by Ricky Stuart’s Raiders side who are in for another tilt at the title in 2021.

He is a crucial signing for the men in green after parting ways with Nic Cotric and Michael Oldfield, and Hopoate will have some healthy competition in the likes of Semi Valemei, Harley Smith-Shields and Matthew Timoko as he looks to make even greater strides in the season to come.