Wild winger is finally kicked into touch after 17-match ban

John Hopoate's notorious career of brawls and bad tackles ends with a record suspension. <i><b>Dave Hadfield </b></i>reports
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The Independent Online

The most infamous rugby league career of modern times has come to a predictably messy end in Sydney, with John Hopoate announcing his retirement after being suspended for 17 matches for his latest serious disciplinary offence.

The most infamous rugby league career of modern times has come to a predictably messy end in Sydney, with John Hopoate announcing his retirement after being suspended for 17 matches for his latest serious disciplinary offence.

The winger was sent off while playing for Manly against Cronulla last weekend. Cronulla's 6ft 7in second-row forward Keith Galloway was left with severe concussion and a split ear requiring seven stitches after a high tackle which prompted the Cronulla coach, Stuart Raper, to say that he had thought such challenges were a thing of the past.

Hopoate, a 31-year-old father of eight, appeared before the National Rugby League judiciary yesterday and pleaded no contest to a striking charge.

His suspension, one of the longest in recent years and enough to make him the most suspended player in total in the modern era, was quickly followed by an announcement from Manly that they had sacked him.

The club's director, Phil Cummings, said they had no option. "Given the player's previous record, the board of the club was given no alternative but to take the action it did," he said. "The decision reached is unfortunate for both the player and the club."

Within 10 minutes, a third announcement confirmed that the winger had retired.

"Sadly, John's somewhat brilliant and turbulent career has come to an end," said the player's manager, Wayne Beavis. "John bears no resentment at the Manly club's decision to terminate his contract."

Hopoate's ban is the second longest sentence in the NRL since its inception in 1998, only exceeded by the 18 weeks given to the Melbourne Storm's Danny Williams for a hit on Wests Tigers' Mark O'Neill last year. Williams is now with the London Broncos.

Hopoate's counsel, Alan Sullivan QC, had argued that his previous indiscretions - the most notorious of which involved sticking his fingers up the backsides of rival players - should not be taken into account. He was given a 12-week ban for that offence.

In all, Hopoate had been suspended five times before this one, for a total of 28 weeks - the worst record in the game. In 1999, he was fined for being involved in a nightclub brawl and was later reported to have turned up drunk at training. Last year he was suspended for swearing at an official. Last week - on the opening weekend of the season - he verbally abused a ballboy in Auckland. Hopoate later apologised.

He defended his tackle on Galloway, in which he charged out of the defensive line, jumped in the air and stuck his forearm out, by saying it was a shoulder charge gone wrong.

"I'm trying to go for a shoulder charge. We call it a shooter," Hopoate said. "You come out of the line and try to force an error and put on a big hit that lifts the team and tries to disrupt the other team's go-forward. I did not mean to go that high. It was a clumsy tackle. I just misjudged it. I was raising my arm to protect my ribs."

Sullivan pointed out that Hopoate had apologised repeatedly to Galloway for the incident.

"I will now suffer the consequences, but I know in my heart that there was no intention of doing anything outside the rules,'' Hopoate said after the hearing. "During my career, I've always tried to play hard and tough but fair."

Hopoate played for New South Wales and for Australia in the 1995 World Cup. It is for his poor disciplinary record, however, that he will be remembered.

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