“We shook hands and made up and he gave me a box of apples and some bananas to take home to the kids and the next thing I was being charged for assault”.
This is what former rugby league international John Hopoate told a Sydney court he thought after throwing punches at a supermarket worker in northern Sydney.
Mr Hopoate, 42, pleaded guilty to common assault in the Downing Centre Local Court on Friday, taking to the stands to say he was “definitely sorry for what happened”.
Earlier in the day, his response to a similar question from a reporter was: “Are you sorry for asking dumb questions?”
The court heard that Mr Hopoate, a former Australian heavyweight boxing champion, has a 75 per cent share in a deli operating within Superfresh Supermarket in Crows Nest.
Mr Hopoate told the court the deli used a shared till and his earnings had dropped about $10,000 from around $27,000 a week since the end of last year.
On May 24, he approached worker Albert Demasi, who was sitting on a milk crate and packing shelves, and continuously asked to speak to the market’s owner, “Camello”.
Mr Hopoate tried to stop Mr Demasi from walking away and said: “I was talking to you c—“.
The worker then head-butted Mr Hopoate who in return “threw two swinging punches at him which he missed”, according to the fact sheet.
Mr Hopoate’s barrister Julieanne Levick told the court that the deli was Mr Hopoate’s only source of income.
Ms Levick requested “extreme leniency” from the magistrate in fining her client, saying he had to feed, school and buy cars and iPads for 10 children .
“He is the sole provider for a family of 10,” Ms Levick told the court.
“They pay a rent of $900 a week, they don’t own any property and as as you have heard today his sole source of income is declining because of circumstances.”
Magistrate Greg Grogin pointed out that Mr Hopoate appeared to be making significant money from his deli business.
“I’m sure a lot of people would like to earn just a small amount of what Mr Hopoate has coming into the house,” he said.
Magistrate Grogin also questioned the safety of the victim given Mr Hopoate’s boxing training and highlighted his criminal record which includes charges of assault, assault occasioning actual bodily harm, stalking and intimidation and fines for driving offences.
But Magistrate Grogin accepted that the assault was on the “lower end of the scale”. He convicted Mr Hopoate, sentencing him to a $1500 fine and an 18-month good behaviour bond.
Outside court, Mr Hopoate told reporters “there’s murderers and there’s other cases” they should be focusing on.
His lawyer appeared to tell him not to respond to any more questions.
But it won’t be the last court case for Mr Hopoate, who was once banned from the NRL for 12 matches for poking opposition players up the backside.
In recent months, he has been locked in a Supreme Court battle with the NRL over his right to coach Manly’s under-18s side, amid allegations he was not a “fit and proper person” to do so.