John Hopoate has overshadowed the League of Legends charity tournament with a misguided attempt to make light of the most infamous incident in NRL history.
Hopoate is currently serving a ban from rugby league over an incident in an A-Grade match but was allowed to play for Manly at the Gosford event.
He was already one of the most divisive figures in the sport, having been suspended for a record 45 weeks over 13 seasons in the top grade.
The most notorious moment of his career came while playing for the Wests Tigers in 2001, when he banned for 12 weeks after inserting his fingers into the backside of three opposition players from North Queensland.
For reasons as yet unknown, Hopoate wore a white glove out on the field and was pictured putting his hand on a Newcastle player’s backside in a tackle.
“It was just a joke,” Knights player Daniel Abraham told 7 News.
“We were joking before the game, we joked after the game.”
The League of Legends tournament raised funds for a foundation in the name of former Newcastle and NSW Origin player Mark Hughes, who was diagnosed with brain cancer at age 36 five years ago.
The Hopoate incident came after son Will revealed his father’s poke was supposed to be a joke among teammates.
It was thought to be nothing more than a moment of madness and designed to put his rivals off their game.
However, Will lifted the lid and said it was supposed to be a practical joke for the benefit of his father’s Tigers teammates.
“His old teammates have since told me the whole thing was supposed to be a prank to watch in team video sessions,” Will wrote on Players’ Voice.
“It ended up costing him his personal brand for life, pretty much.”
Will detailed the toll the incident wrought on his family and how he and his siblings became prisoners in their own home after media camped outside in the aftermath.
John’s career finally came to an end in 2005 when he was suspended for 17 games for a flying elbow on Keith Galloway.
Despite his father’s obvious failings, Will said he had instilled in him his best qualities including resilience, respect and his Mormon faith.
“People driving by would stick their fingers up and dad, having a short temper, would chase them,” he said.
“Kids at school and opposing sporting teams would ‘poke’ fun at me. My family was all over TV and the back and front pages of the newspaper. It wasn’t a great period.
“Dad was being portrayed like he was a murderer, which confused the heck out of me, because that was nothing like the man I saw at home day in, day out.”