Hoppa still unsure on NSW recall
Eels centre Will Hopoate says he is "hopeful" his smaller frame can hold up the brutality of Origin should he get picked by NSW coach Laurie Daley to replace the injured Josh Morris for Game II.
With confirmation that the Bulldogs centre will miss 6-8 weeks with a posterior cruciate ligament injury, Hopoate – who was named as 18th man by Daley for Game I – will be favourite to fill Morris' void in Sydney.
But after admitting pre-Origin that he hadn't yet returned to Origin standard, the 22-year-old remains unsure whether his body is up for it.
"It was definitely a physical encounter [in Game I]. Hopefully I can. I'm still trying to build on strength and bulk up a little bit more to handle the contact," he said after his side's 38-12 loss to Penrith.
"There was definitely a feel there to play in that arena but again, in saying that, there's still plenty of things I can do to improve. It's a whole new level of footy and I'm still adjusting back to club footy."
The Panthers were rampant down Hopoate's right edge last night, making plenty of headway that led to six of Penrith's seven tries. Hopoate, 22, said he needed to improve.
"After tonight's performance, there's plenty of things I can do to improve. I enjoyed the week last week being in camp but there's plenty of things I need to do to improve," he said.
"I'm sure Laurie [Daley] will pick the best 17 for the state. I was just focused on putting in a performance for Parramatta. It wasn't the best game so I've got to go back to the drawing board and look for ways to improve.
"Mentally, I know for myself I wasn't my best. That's an area I can definitely improve on. So I'm looking forward to getting a good rest this week and come back ready to train Monday."
Eels coach Brad Arthur agreed, pointing out after his two years away from the game, Hopoate's primary battle remains with his body shape.
"He's getting stronger," he said. "It's moreso the physical part of it, not so much the football for him. He's going to be his best judge. I'm sure if he was put in there, he'll do a great job."
Finding a replacement for Morris is just one of many selection headaches Daley has to think about over the next two weeks before naming a side on June 10.
Josh's brother Brett suffered a shoulder dislocation and fracture that the Dragons said would keep him out "indefinitely", while skipper Paul Gallen is still awaiting results on a scan for a neck injury and second rower Anthony Watmough is battling a bicep injury.