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Hoppa earns NSW Origin recall hope

Parramatta centre Will Hopoate may not make the 17 for NSW in State of Origin I in Brisbane on May 28 but he's certainly giving himself the best possible chance.

Hopoate played strongly throughout City Origin's thrilling 26-all draw with Country Origin in Dubbo on Sunday, with a series of purposeful charges yielding a massive 163 running metres. His 15 tackles was also the most of anyone in the back five from either team and he had no defensive lapses.

But it was his work in City's stunning comeback that was without doubt the most eye-catching.

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First, a high-quality catch-and-pass under huge defensive pressure in the 79th minute, drawing both his opposite centre and winger, allowed his outside winger Daniel Tupou to tiptoe down the touchline and close the deficit to six points with around one minute of play remaining.

Then, when his side was able to surge downfield on the back of a Dylan Walker line break, Hopoate was on hand after the ball had been Harlem Globetrottered all over the place to pick up the pieces and charge through Country's line – taking special note to get the best possible position for his kicker, with the side needing six points rather than four – and score the try that levelled the match seconds before full-time.

However, much like when NRL.com quizzed him about his representative prospects back in Round 6, Hopoate was typically understated about his performance.

"[There's] definitely still room for improvement on my behalf. With each game comes a bit more confidence within myself, so I'm just focusing on weekly goals and whatever happens off the back of that happens," Hopoate told NRL.com on Sunday.

"Definitely in defence there's still things I can improve on in terms of contact, as well as trying to build my strength and speed for attack as well."

He said while the game may have given him another taste of representative footy to whet the appetite, his focus will now return to Parramatta, who host the Sharks next Monday night to conclude Round 9 of the competition.

Of City teammate and looming Sharks rival Andrew Fifita, who was doing his best to distract Hopoate during his interview, the Eels centre said "I'm grateful I'm not in the middle!"

Fifita scored a classic centre's try to kickstart City's comeback, leading Hopoate to add: "He's got the speed of a back and he's going to be a handful for us on Monday."

City coach Brad Fittler revealed it had been a distinct plan to try and get Hopoate drawing multiple defenders – a move which paid off in the dying stages of the game.

"We spoke all week about how we could get him in those situations where he gets those two-on-ones under pressure," Fittler said.

"He does it so well and he's so composed. He might have got two away early in the game then he tapped one or two down - he's lost no finesse.

"We saw some really good signs and to score that try, he was in traffic then just found the strength to beat the fullback. What we need is all our good players to keep putting pressure on each other."

Hopoate has started all eight games in the centres for Parramatta this year and his one previous game for NSW, in 2011, came in the centres when he debuted in place of the injured Michael Jennings, but the selection was somewhat left-field as Hopoate was regarded as a specialist winger at the time.

But with incumbent centres Josh Morris and Michael Jennings a strong chance of retaining their spots, and Hopoate's club teammate and fullback Jarryd Hayne also a chance of reprising his starring World Cup role as a centre, it seems the best chance for Hopoate to don a sky blue jersey is on the wing. The Manly junior isn't fazed either way.

"There are differences and similarities [playing centre and wing]. I'm enjoying playing in the centres, adjusting and learning how I can improve in my role as a centre in the team," Hopoate said.

With a few more performances like the one on Sunday he may give Blues coach Laurie Daley no choice but to include him somewhere.

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