NRL Rd 2 - Eels v Sharks
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 10: J'maine Hopgood of the Eels looks to pass during the round two NRL match between the Parramatta Eels and the Cronulla Sharks at CommBank Stadium on March 10, 2023 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

A few months ago, the casual rugby league fan didn't know who J'maine Hopgood was. Now, the lock forward is on Billy Slater's Origin radar.

Joining Parramatta from the Penrith Panthers over the off-season, Hopgood failed to crack the defending premier's best 17, but has already won Eels' fans over with a starring role early in the season.

Before joining Parramatta, Hopgood had featured in nine NRL games, starting in just two of them. He played 84 minutes against the Melbourne Storm in Round 1 this season, and is averaging close to 140 metres and 45 tackles per game, with two try-assists and ten offloads to boot.

While he's taken the rugby league world, and SuperCoach fans, by storm, it isn't just the fans that have taken notice of his early season performances.

Rookie Queensland coach Billy Slater already knew the name.

“We were aware that (he was a Queenslander) when he was Penrith,” Slater told The Daily Telegraph.

“He was their player of the year in the NSW Cup last year. We know who our Queenslanders are and we are certainly aware of J'maine.

“He has had a great start to the season. He has been one of their best players in both games.”

The former Melbourne fullback sent an email to every Queensland player in the NRL when he started as coach last season, including Hopgood, despite having half-a-dozen NRL games to his name at the time.

Slater confirmed the lock is on his radar as a middle forward.

“I contacted all Queenslanders last year, whether it be in person, phone or email. He was one.

“He didn't play much first grade last year … but we talk about all Queenslanders and we are aware of where they are at.

“He has been in the discussion for us for a while. He has good habits in his game. He is a bit of a worker and he does a lot of things in the middle of the field that the team need.

“He also has a bit of creative play in his game. I just like watching all Queenslanders play. I know the quality he brings to a football team and has in his game.

NRL Trial Match - Panthers v Sharks
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 20: J'maine Hopgood of the Panthers is tackled during the NRL Trial Match between the Penrith Panthers and the Cronulla Sharks at CommBank Stadium on February 20, 2022 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Brett Hemmings/Getty Images)

“He has been behind a fair back row at Penrith - really happy that he has got his opportunity at Parramatta.”

Hopgood wouldn't look out of place coming off the bench for Queensland, joining middle forwards Patrick Carrigan, Josh Papalii, Reuben Cotter and Tino Fa'asuamaleaui in the squad.

He'll have his own competition at club level first through, with Ryan Matterson due back from suspension next weekend, and coming off a career-best year in the middle third.