Hopoate 'surprised' by Origin selection
Eels centre and NSW winger Will Hopoate says he thought his own form and his club's woes in 2015 would have put his chances of featuring in Origin I at risk.
Blues coach Laurie Daley surprised a few by selecting the Eels centre or fullback on his contentious right wing spot ahead of Kangaroos flanker Alex Johnston and a host of other in-form outside backs including Canberra's Jack Wighton and Wests Tiger James Tedesco and incumbent Blues winger, Newcastle's James McManus.
Hopoate struggled in the early rounds to adapt to a shift to fullback replacing Jarryd Hayne before switching back to his preferred centre position, where his form has been steady rather than spectacular.
But as a strong defender and someone already blooded in the Origin arena Daley showed faith in him to help Josh Morris tie down Greg Inglis and Darius Boyd and put in some strong kick returns.
Hopoate told NRL.com he had been surprised to get the call up from Daley a day before the team was formally unveiled at The Star casino on Tuesday.
"He called me the day before and notified me and I was definitely surprised but at the same time grateful and humbled," Hopoate said.
He confessed his side's current last-place ladder position could have hurt his chances.
"Yeah, to be honest I was just really focused on Parramatta, obviously a few more wins would be handy, that was my focus and I've always said whatever comes off the back of that will be a bonus and now that I'm back here in blue, I'm very grateful."
Having played everywhere in the back five in his NRL career Hopoate said that versatility may have also played in his favour despite not having played on the wing this year.
"That's been a blessing, playing on the wing in the NRL, and Laurie sees me fit to play on the right wing for Origin and I'm grateful and hopefully I can show my gratitude," he said.
Hopoate was expecting to have a big role to play on that edge defensively.
"Queensland's a great team and they have so many attacking weapons, defence is definitely going to be at the forefront of our minds and something we're going to work on I'm sure thoroughly throughout the week."
The Eels' slow start to the year did claim one casualty, with back-rower Anthony Watmough – previously an automatic selection when fully fit and a key member of the drought-breaking series win last year – overlooked in favour of younger players such as Rooster Boyd Cordner and Bulldogs debutant Josh Jackson.
Hopoate said the veteran hadn't let it get to him though.
"Choccy is Choccy, it's hard to bring him down, he's always up and enthusiastic and that was no different yesterday [Monday] at training. I'm sure he'll do great for the club Friday night [against the Rabbitohs]."