Metre-eater Hopoate climbing new heights
Canterbury Bulldogs fullback Will Hopoate has felt the pinch of an increased workload in 2017.
The Bulldogs' attack has again been a talking point this year after a new structure implemented by Des Hasler in the pre-season has fallen short to what they would have hoped after 18 rounds.
Hopoate however is one player who has benefited from more time spent with the ball and is a player breaking career-high barriers.
The 25-year-old averaged 144 metres per game in 2016 but has since increased that statistic to 191 per match on the back of more carries and yardage in his second season at the club.
He's also cracked the 300-metre barrier twice this season – including a career-high 329 against his former club Parramatta a fortnight ago that was six metres shy of a NRL Telstra Premiership record.
"I'm not sure if there is a specific formula that has brought that on, it's not a stat that I try and improve each week," Hopoate told NRL.com.
"In saying that I've definitely felt it on the field, there have been a lot of times this year where I've felt more gassed than other seasons.
"A lot of the kicks against Parramatta came from deep in their half which allowed to us as a back three to chew up as many metres that we could so I was probably a bit lucky there."
Hopoate admitted his overall game in the No.1 jersey still required work, but the former NSW representative has already beaten his four-try assists in 2016 this season.
He set up two tries in Canterbury's miracle 20-18 win over the Knights on Sunday, but also sent one into the stands in an attempt to find Kerrod Holland for a first-half double.
"I try and run as far and hard as I can and help the team but there are other areas I want to develop too," Hopoate said.
"I think it's a conscious effort that I've wanted to be more involved and taking some pressure away from others.
"More than anything our forwards have to set that platform to put me into a bit of space because it's the only way our backs are able to work."
Hopoate made headlines earlier in the season with Canterbury forcing the former Sea Eagle to play football when required on a Sunday, an exemption he was granted in 2016 due to religious beliefs.
"Now that the dust has settled we've all moved on from that," Hopoate said.
"With Sunday games usually in the afternoon anyway I'm always attending church services in the mornings and attending to my responsibilities as best I can to make up for it."
The Bulldogs have their final bye this week on the back of their stunning comeback in Josh Reynolds' final game at Belmore.
Canterbury will be on 18 competition points by the end of the round – three wins outside the top eight and they'll need to win every game to give themselves a miracle chance of making the finals.
For now though the week belonged to Reynolds, who was chaired off by Bulldogs teammates and the Belmore faithful on Sunday evening.
"The first few minutes there was emotion and we haven't won at Belmore for the past couple of games," Hopoate said.
"He's very humble and told us [in the week leading up to the game] he's more worried about the result as a team rather than his own personal farewell and that's just the type of bloke he is."