31st July 2017, 14:23
MEET THE TEAM: Sam Hopkins
Next up in our series of MEET THE TEAM is Leigh Centurions forward Sam Hopkins.
Sam Hopkins' first call-up for Wales last autumn is a story in itself.
Wales officials were informed of Hopkins' eligibility through heritage and, due to injuries and unavailability of players, were able to draft him into the squad for the final World Cup Qualifier in Italy.
The 27-year-old had booked a holiday with friends and had to cancel it in order to make his Dragons debut.
Speaking shortly after his call-up, Hopkins said at the time: "I'm a bit taken back by it all.
"I didn't realise how international call-ups worked. I was talking to Jake Emmitt and told him that the blood line was there for me to play for Wales.
"I then spoke to John Kear - he's watched me in the Championship and knows what type of player I am - and he asked me whether I'd be able to come into camp."
Hopkins was given his break into the professional ranks when he signed a deal with Leigh Centurions as an 18-year-old.
He had previously been playing for hometown amateur club Leigh East and had also been selected for the U18s Great Britain Community Lions.
The prop forward was handed his first-team debut for Leigh in March 2011, when he lined-up for the Centurions against Hull Dockers in the third round of the Challenge Cup.
He went on to make 13 appearances in all in 2011, scoring three tries, and played a part in Leigh's Northern Rail Cup success.
Sam and his Leigh teammates lift the Northern Rail Cup in 2011
Hopkins became a regular in the side over the next two years and again lifted the Northern Rail Cup with the Centurions in 2013, as they beat Sheffield Eagles at The Shay, Halifax.
For a forward, he also chipped in with his fair share of tries; across 2012 and 2013, he went over for an impressive 22 four-pointers.
His performances in a Leigh shirt began to catch the attention of a number of clubs and he signed a two-year deal with Super League giants Wigan Warriors ahead of 2014.
However, after making a couple of appearances for Workington Town on dual-registration, he was loaned back to Leigh Centurions towards the end of 2014.
He then signed a one-year loan deal with Leigh for 2015, but he made the deal permanent midway through the camapaign and has been at Leigh Sports Village since.
Hopkins has certainly found form since he has rejoined the Centurions on a permanent basis and played a pivotal part in the club's promotion to Super League last season.
Sam in action for Leigh Centurions against Warrington Wolves
In 27 matches in 2016, he put in numerous man-of-the-match performances and again showed his try-scoring abilitiy, going over for 13 in all.
And the step up to the top tier this season hasn't been an issue for Hopkins; he is one of the first names in Neil Jukes' 17-man matchday squad.
With Leigh set to battle it out for their place in Super League in the Super 8s, Hopkins' performances could well prove to be key.
He will also be hoping to hit top form in order to book a spot in John Kear's squad for this autumn's World Cup.
Name: Sam Hopkins
Current club: Leigh Centurions
Sam out with friends
Community club: Leigh East
Eligibility: Born in Salford. Eligible through heritage
Date of birth: 17/02/90
Wales heritage: #508; Wales caps: 1; Wales debut: 29/10/16
SEE SAM'S FULL RECORD FOR WALES HERE
YOU CAN FOLLOW SAM ON TWITTER: @samhopkins1990
Wales' group matches at Rugby League World Cup 2017 are as follows:
PAPUA NEW GUINEA V WALES
Sir John Guise Stadium, Port Moresby
FIJI V WALES
WALES V IRELAND
Perth Rectangular Stadium
For details on how to sponsor Wales in their World Cup campaign, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meanwhile, Wales' new merchandise for Rugby League World Cup 2017 is now available. You can purchase items HERE.
Article by Ryan Gould
Photos from Sam Hopkins, Ian Lovell and SWPix