Eels centre Will Hopoate was much improved in his final hit-out before teams are named for Origin II without truly demanding inclusion, with his coach defending his prior performance against Penrith due to a lack of preparation.
Hopoate looked a sure thing to replace the injured Josh Morris on the Blues' right edge for Game 2 until a below-par effort at Penrith in Round 12 with a number of defensive lapses, but Arthur said it was a big ask on the 21-year-old given he hadn't trained with the side all week.
Hopoate was called into the Blues' side as 18th man and left Brisbane on a 6am flight out of Brisbane the day before a Friday night trip to Penrith, with his only run with the Eels being the 15 minute captain's run on Thursday.
He was much better in the 18-16 win over the Cowboys at Pirtek Stadium on Friday night, with some key defensive reads and strong charges with the ball, amassing 126 running metres and 15 tackles.
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NSW and Eels fullback Jarryd Hayne said after the match he was impressed with the hit-back from Hopoate.
"I thought he did really well tonight, defended really well and it's going to be very interesting where they go with the right centre and the right wing spot," Hayne said.
"I think he's been up there with the best centres in the game this year and it's a credit to him – if he doesn't get it now he'll get it in the near future."
Eels coach Brad Arthur defended Hopoate's lacklustre performance at Penrith.
"Hoppa's preparation wasn't great last week, he didn't train with us until the captain's run," Arthur said.
"He was on a 6am flight out of Brisbane and trained with us for about 15 minutes. He was back into his preparation this week. It's a big ask for a young boy that's been away from the game for a couple of years and you take him away from his normal routine – he responded well."
Hopoate is in the mix for both the right centre and right wing spot. Blues coach Laurie Daley, who on Friday night indicated Hopoate was a big chance of selection due to his Origin experience, could also opt to shift back-rower Beau Scott to right centre to accommodate the return to the pack of Greg Bird.
Other options for the centre spot are Rabbitoh Dylan Walker and Raider Jack Wighton, while Manly's Jorge Taufua and Penrith's Josh Mansour are also in the running for the wing spot left vacant by the injury to Brett Morris.