"Sound, nothing spectacular" but "his best will come" was former international winger John Hopoate's early assessment of how his eldest son William was settling back into top grade football as a Parramatta Eel after he'd spent the two previous years as a Mormon missionary in south-east Queensland.
Hopoate will face the acid test at Brookvale Oval on Sunday against his old club Manly after trying to regain his groove in Parramatta's opening round victory against the New Zealand Warriors, and last week's 56-4 shellacking courtesy of defending premiers, Sydney Roosters. But Hopoate senior, who played for Manly, Wests Tigers, NSW and Australia, said fans were a little while off seeing the best of his boy who won a grand final with the Sea Eagles and represented the NSW Blues as a teenager.
"He's done as well as he could," said Hopoate senior. "We're only two games in and he's been sound but nothing spectacular. He's been away for two years and while some might say he has done nothing outstanding, Will has done his job. He just needs time. Anyone who thinks he's going to return from a two-year-break and perform miracles ... it just won't happen.
"Will was pretty fit when he came back from Queensland, he just needs to get his timing back in order. While that will come I know he's hoping it'll be sooner rather than later. He is working hard; doing a lot of extra things he didn't do before the missionary, like stretching. He's taking time out in the day to do extras that will improve him as a player ... he did everything that was asked of him at training [with Manly] but he's doing even more in his own time now."
Hopoate said he did not expect his son to be overly concerned about returning to Brookvale - aka ''The Fortress'' - even though some fans were furious that it was announced, virtually hours after the Sea Eagles won the 2011 grand final, that he'd joined Parramatta.
"It'll be a massive challenge for him, going back to the team he played for before he left, but, as I've said, that was two years ago and you'd think everyone has gone past that," he said. "He has to just worry about his own game and do what he can to help his team win.
"I know what it's like to play against Manly as a former player and I think I speak on behalf of any player who has gone to another team, that of all the sides in the comp, that's the team you want to beat most of all. And William will be no different, he'll want to prove something and he'll want to play well for himself and Parramatta."
Hopoate, who held the Australian heavyweight boxing title after he retired from league, said his son's reputation was such he believed there'd be no need for him to take his old gloves to Sunday's game to protect him from any supporter who might still hold a grudge.
"I think they'll go easy on him," he said. "William's a bit like [former Australia and Queensland Origin captain] Darren Lockyer, not so much in status, but in being seen as too nice a guy to boo him. It was the same for Lockyer at the Brisbane Broncos, everyone hated the Broncos in Sydney but no one would boo Lockyer because he was too nice."
Will Hopoate's manager Tyran Smith admitted one of his main concerns was the star back had worked hard to summon the old magic as quickly as possible but realised it would not come instantly.
"There is a transition period and I can see him adjusting and getting on top of everything he has to," Smith said.
"He trains hard and they even had to try and slow him down at Parramatta because he tried to do too much. Will is a perfectionist, he knows where he was, and where he needs to be ... he has it mapped out to be better than when he left.