Origin dream lingers for Hopgood after junior defeats
J'maine Hopgood is still driven by the pain of junior State of Origin defeats as the Parramatta lock closes in on his first senior Queensland jersey.
A reserve-grader at Penrith as recently as the end of last year, Hopgood has emerged as a genuine contender for the Maroons in an already stacked forward pack.
Queensland coach Billy Slater will name his side on Monday morning, with Hopgood vying for a bench role against several other capped Maroons contenders.
Assuming David Fifita earns a recall in the second row, Hopgood is in a battle with Christian Welch, Reuben Cotter, Tom Gilbert, Tom Flegler, Kurt Capewell and Jai Arrow for bench spots.
Corey Horsburgh is another option to debut for the Maroons, given his start to the year in Canberra.
Hopgood, however, finds it hard to believe he is even in the conversation after joining the Eels with 10 first-grade games to his name in the off-season.
"Twelve weeks ago, if you'd have said that to me then I would have laughed at you," Hopgood said.
"To be able to just say that people are saying it is an achievement in itself.
"I've just got to keep building my game. I think early in your career you make mistakes and people are happy to write them off.
"But as you start to notch a few more games, you can't be affording to make mistakes. I think that's been a good thing for me.
"If I ever got the chance to wear that (Queensland) jersey then that would be something different and something very special for me."
Hopgood further pushed his case in Friday night's win over South Sydney, getting the better of Cameron Murray to again star for the Eels through the middle of the field.
The 24-year-old has represented Queensland before.
The Hervey Bay product played under-18s and under-20s for the Maroons in 2017 and 2019 and was beaten on both occasions by the Blues.
In the second match his side was pulled apart by Matt Burton and Stephen Crichton at Accor Stadium, hours before James Tedesco claimed a last-minute match winner to steal the senior series for NSW.
"Origin's everything, it's the pinnacle for me and a lot of kids growing up in Queensland," Hopgood said.
"I played a lot of 18s and 20s and was lucky enough to be in camps where I was surrounded by the first-grade Maroons boys at the time.
"You just idolise those guys and you could see how much it meant to them.
"We didn't get the win in either of those grades, that's something that still stings me to this day.
"So I know if I ever got to put that jersey on I wouldn't leave anything out there."