Meet Will Hopoate: Rugby league star and RootsTech Connect keynote speaker

Editor’s note: This is one in a series of features on the Latter-day Saint keynote speakers at upcoming RootsTech Connect 2021. Read more on the virtual family history celebration.

As a 19-year-old, Will Hopoate made national headlines in Australia for rejecting a $1.5 million rugby league contract to serve a two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 

After one year in the National Rugby League playing for the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles, Hopoate paused his career to serve in the Australia Brisbane Mission from 2012 to 2013.

In an “I’m a Mormon” video prior to his departure, Hopoate said going on a mission was a childhood dream and serving others was a way to express gratitude to God for his talents. 

Now, 10 years later, the rugby star — a fullback for the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs and a husband and father — has an opportunity to share a message on RootsTech’s virtual center stage. 

“Because of my family, I am who I am today,” he said in a recent interview.  

Hopoate will be one of 13 keynote speakers at RootsTech Connect Feb. 25-27. Born in New South Wales, Australia, the Latter-day Saint rugby league player is of Tongan descent. He and his wife, Jimicina Green, have four children ages 4 and under. 

“The mission has been a real spiritual anchor for me in my life, in terms of becoming more converted to the gospel and learning more about it,” Hopoate said. His wife also served a mission, and together they are striving to instill gospel principles in their home, he added.

Rugby league is a brutal sport. It’s tough. It’s physical. It’s mentally challenging. But it also provides a few gospel parallels.  

Like preparing for a game, Hopoate said he must prepare for daily spiritual battles. “It’s important we do the spiritual training sessions, reading, praying, serving, ministering … so that we’re spiritually in shape and have the spiritual stamina to endure valiantly to the end.”

Listening to his coaches is key for improvement, Hopoate continued. “I think, likewise, spiritually, our coach being the Lord, through His prophets and leaders in the Church, they identify for us the opposition and the spiritual battle that we all have, which is against the adversary. …

“If we heed their counsel and follow the so-called ‘spiritual game plan,’ victory is assured.”

Will Hopoate began playing for the National Rugby League (NRL) when he was 18 years old. He currently plays for the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs as a fullback.
Will Hopoate began playing for the National Rugby League (NRL) when he was 18 years old. He currently plays for the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs as a fullback. Credit: FamilySearch.org

Hopoate’s 10-year rugby league career has also provided opportunities for continued missionary experiences. 

For example, when Hopoate was returning from a training session with a teammate one day, they drove past the local Latter-day Saint meetinghouse. This prompted the teammate to ask Hopoate about his beliefs.

While answering his questions, Hopoate said the teammate became more intrigued and wanted to know why there are so many different churches — and what makes the Latter-day Saint faith different.

As Hopoate explained the Great Apostasy, the formation of various churches and how the Lord restored His Church, “things begin to click in his mind,” he said of his teammate. Hopoate also told him about living prophets and apostles and the role of the Book of Mormon.

“It wasn’t a big, profound spiritual experience, but it was a small, meaningful conversation that had a good spiritual impact on the both of us, which is something I will remember,” Hopoate said.

Sign up for RootsTech Connect to watch Hopoate’s keynote address.