THOSE familiar with The Simpsons will be familiar with the episode where Principal Skinner is driving the kids from Springfield Elementary School on the bus.
It’s not quite the same, but that was the position Hastings Valley Vikings reserve grade inside centre Gil Hopley was in earlier this season.
The club needed someone to drive the bus to Coffs Harbour for the Vikings clash with Southern Cross University Marlins and he put his hand up.
Hopley didn’t intend on taking the field that weekend, but the side was short.
It proved a turning point in his career as he made a comeback from a knee reconstruction suffered in 2013.
“I had a couple of years off and drove the boys to a game this year,” he said.
“The guys were short that weekend so I chucked the boots on, had a run and haven’t looked back.
“I wasn’t planning on playing, but it was good fun with the guys; it’s good being around the young blokes.”
Hopley admitted he never thought he would play again after suffering the knee injury three years ago.
I wasn’t planning on playing, but it was good fun with the guys; it’s good being around the young blokes.Hastings Valley Vikings reserve grade inside centre Gil Hopley
“I did think that would be it, but I got the op done, had 12 months of rehab and this is my first year back.”
The 2010 premiership-winning captain has been one of reserve grade’s more consistent performers in the second half of this season.
He said the key to the Vikings continued success was having strength in every grade.
It meant each player was pushing for a spot in the grade above.
“That’s the key to our success because there are so many guys that are vying for a first grade spot; that’s what makes the club so strong,” Hopley said.
“There are probably five or six guys in our side who wouldn’t look out of place in first grade which is good.”
Hopley’s reserve grade teammates will aim to complete a fourth-straight premiership triumph, but they won’t have it their own way against Grafton.
“They’ll be really tough because they’ve got some big forwards across the park so they’ll be pretty full on and there will be some good contact,” he said.
“We need to hold possession, play our game and not let them dictate terms on how we want to play.”
That’s the key to our success because there are so many guys that are vying for a first grade spot.Gil Hopley
Hopley said older statesman such as Brent Horan would be important to lay the platform up front.
“He’s 40, but he’s been doing his job in the front row really well this year,” he said.
The grand final looms as one of the Vikings more important days in the club’s history.
“It will be pretty special, I’m not sure it’s been done before with both grades winning four in a row,” Hopley said.
“But we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves before it’s done, but it would be awesome to achieve that.”
Reserve grade kicks off at 1.30pm on Saturday.