Wally Lewis names debutant Queensland must pick as Billy Slater settles on Cameron Munster replacement

The legendary Queensland half wants to see J'Maine Hopgood picked.

NRL legend Wally Lewis has urged Billy Slater to name Origin bolter J'Maine Hopgood in his Maroons team for Game I. The legendary Queensland five-eighth says the forward is exactly the type of player you need in an Origin side and believes he can flawlessly make the step up.

"He's a performer, that guy," Lewis said on Wide World of Sports' QLDER of Hopgood. "He's physical, confrontational, and can perform. He got through a tireless amount of work in the games that I've seen him play."

Queensland’s forward stocks have been decimated ahead of Origin I on June 5, with Tino Fa’asuamaleaui and Tom Gilbert (knees) out for the series. Prop Tom Flegler is also in doubt for at least Game I with a shoulder injury, seemingly opening the door for Hopgood to make his Origin debut.

Wally Lewis wants to see forward J'Maine Hopgood named in Billy Slater's Origin side. Image: Getty
Wally Lewis wants to see forward J'Maine Hopgood named in Billy Slater's Origin side. Image: Getty

When Slater was pressed on if the Eels forward was in contention to make the 17 after being named 19th man for Origin III last season, the Maroons coach said "absolutely".

"Absolutely I am looking at him,” Slater said of Hopgood to The Australian. "J’maine was in and around the group last year as 19th man for Game Three.

"We hold those 18th and 19th man positions pretty highly, we don’t just give those spots to people for experience. We give them to people who have earnt those opportunities. When you reach that position, we feel if you have to wear a Maroon jersey in a State of Origin game, you are well equipped and you have built the habits in your game to handle the arena. That’s how I felt about him last year and nothing has changed."

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 26:  J’maine Hopgood of the Eels passes the ball during the round eight NRL match between Manly Sea Eagles and Parramatta Eels at 4 Pines Park on April 26, 2024, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
J’maine Hopgood is in contention for a Maroons spot for Game I.

Hopgood played just nine games in two seasons at premiers Penrith as he was down in the pecking order behind Isaah Yeo. But since moving to the Eels last year the 25-year-old has been one of the NRL's most consistent players.

Hopgood is averaging 119 metres and 36 tackles this season and provides versatility for Slater as he can play both middle or edge forward. "J’maine did his apprenticeship at Penrith and a lot of players don’t take the time to educate themselves," Slater said.

"Not playing first grade at Penrith, he was still getting experience being in a professional organisation like that. I felt when he got his opportunity at Parramatta, he was ready and he has been a consistent performer for them the last couple of years."


Meanwhile, Tom Dearden is locked in a battle with Brisbane young gun Ezra Mam for the now-vacant five-eighth spot in Slater's line-up after Cameron Munster picked up a groin injury for the Storm last weekend. Munster has opted against surgery - which would have ended his season - but is still expected to miss 8-10 weeks, ruling him out of this year's Origin series.

Dearden is widely considered by many as the front-runner for the No.6 jersey and has previous experience with the Maroons, while Slater also has Ben Hunt, Sam Walker and Mam as other options for the five-eighth position. But Slater appears to have already made up his mind, settling on Dearden to partner Daly Cherry-Evans in the halves.

In the biggest hint yet that Slater will side with Dearden, Mam revealed during a segment on Triple M's The Rush Hour QLD with A.B & Elliott that he hasn't spoken to Slater in weeks, which would indicate he unlikely to be in contention to replace Munster. “I haven’t spoken to Billy (Slater) at all in the last couple of weeks," Mam revealed when asked about his Origin hopes.

"Obviously, it would be a dream of mine to represent my state but in saying that I haven’t been playing my best footy this year for the Broncos and I’m not where I want to be at the moment.

"If an opportunity comes up obviously I'd be happy to take it but in saying that we've got some great halves in Queensland that would be able to step up and do a job like they have in the last couple of years. It’s not my focus at the moment, my focus is honestly at the Broncos so I'm just happy to be looking forward to this round in particular and trying to play my best footy."