James MacSmith, AAP
Will Hopoate isn't where he expected to be.
The Parramatta star says he didn't expect to be back playing representative football after just eight NRL games following his two year hiatus from the game.
But here he is, back on the rep scene in the City side for Sunday's clash with Country in Dubbo, almost three years since helping inspire the Blues to a stunning come-from-behind win over Queensland in his one and only State of Origin game.
By his own admission Hopoate's reintroduction to rugby league has come in small steps and the 21-year-old says he can't believe he has made it this far. This quickly.
"I have just been really focused on trying to play good football with Parramatta and it (City selection) really caught me by surprise," Hopoate told AAP.
"I am just happy to be back playing rugby league, I really missed it while I was away and now I'm happy to be back playing the game I love.
"I'm loving every minute of it and this is just a bonus. I'm grateful to be here and grateful to have this experience.
"I have really been enjoying the week under Freddie, getting to know the boys and I'm really excited about playing this weekend playing alongside some of the best players in the NRL. It's great to be chosen."
City coach Brad Fittler believes Hopoate can help NSW finally bring an end to Queensland's dominance of State of Origin.
But Hopoate himself says he is only coming to grips again with the game he left in 2011 as a State of Origin player and as a premiership winner with Manly.
"At the beginning of the year it wasn't really a goal of mine to play Origin," Hopoate said.
"I'm still working hard to improve parts of my game in attack and defence and further down the track if it comes (NSW selection) that would be great.
"With each week I am feeling more confident within myself but there is still plenty of room for improvement.
"I am just taking it step by step and hopefully I can take another step on Sunday.
"It has been hard work coming back. It has been a great challenge.
"The physicality and speed of the game have increased since I left and it is about trying to put on some speed and some size to handle the contact.
"I really missed the mateship of the sport I have been playing since I was a kid.
"I'm grateful to be back and I'm really excited to play this weekend."