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'Dream come true': ex-Caloundra player set to make impact on rugby league's biggest stage

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A former Caloundra Sharks rugby league player is set to make his Queensland Maroons debut in Game I of State of Origin in Sydney on Wednesday night.

J’maine Hopgood, who hails from Hervey Bay but played for the Sharks as a teenager, was selected for the big stage early last week.

He spent his first afternoon as a Maroon telling coach Billy Slater how it could have been very different.

The hard-running Parramatta tackling machine, with an offload to boot, was ready to give up on rugby league and become a carpenter when he left school as a 15-year-old.

Hopgood, whose dad Dale died of a heart attack after playing a game when his son was just seven, kept at it though.

A cameo as part of the extended Maroons squad for the final game of last year’s series was a nice taste of things to come.

Now the 25-year-old lock will get his chance off the bench in the State of Origin opener.

Do you have an opinion to share? Submit a Letter to the Editor at Sunshine Coast News via news@sunshinecoastnews.com.au. You must include your name and suburb.

“I ran Billy through the story,” Hopgood, who began his career at Penrith in 2021, told journalists.

“Fifteen years old, dropped out of school, started my apprenticeship playing club footy in Caloundra – and wasn’t even going to play that.”

It was while at the Sharks that he was selected for the Queensland under-18 team but Hopgood still had some doubts, even after he linked with the Penrith Panthers.

“Even playing SG Ball at Penrith when I was 18, I didn’t think I’d play first grade,” he said.

“So to be standing here with all you, it’s been a long journey.”

His father’s sudden death, on the same day Hopgood played his first game of under-7s, will make turning out for the Maroons a bittersweet occasion.

J’maine Hopgood during a Queensland training session. Picture: AAP.

“A little bit; it’s a dream come true and if you’d asked a little eight-year-old kid if he would be standing here today, I wouldn’t know what to say to you,” he said.

“Just a young kid from Hervey Bay, the first kid born and raised there to play first grade, let alone Queensland.”

Growing up a North Queensland fan, Hopgood counts Matt Bowen’s famous Origin intercept in game one of 2005 as one of his favourite childhood moments.

He said spending time in camp last year had made the experience of getting called up a smooth one – not that the wait for a phone call from Slater on Sunday was any less excruciating.

“It was pretty emotional. I was sitting by the phone most of the day trying to keep busy,” he said.

“My daughter was getting ready for bed, it was close to bedtime, she was getting a bit angry (and) then the phone called.

“I quickly told my missus to mute the TV.

“We sat there with it on speaker…. she cried before me and I was just in a bit of shock, and that’s been the last 12, 24 hours for me.

“Being here, it’s a dream come true.”

2024 State of Origin Game 1

  • Accor Stadium, Sydney
  • Wednesday, June 5, 8.05pm
  • Watch on Channel 9 and 9 Now

NSW Blues: 1. James Tedesco 2. Brian To’o 3. Stephen Crichton 4. Joseph Suaali’I 5. Zac Lomax 6. Jarome Luai 7. Nicho Hynes 8. Jake Trbojevic (c) 9. Reece Robson 10. Payne Haas 11. Liam Martin 12. Angus Crichton 13. Cameron McInnes 14. Isaah Yeo 15. Haumole Olaukau’atu 16. Spencer Leniu 17 Hudson Young 18. Matt Burton 19. Luke Keary 20. Mitch Barnett. Coach: Michael Maguire

QLD Maroons: 1. Reece Walsh 2. Xavier Coates 3. Valentine Holmes 4. Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow 5. Murray Taulagi 6. Tom Dearden 7. Daly Cherry-Evans (c) 8. Reuben Cotter 9. Ben Hunt 10. Lindsay Collins 11. Jaydn Su’a 12. Jeremiah Nanai 13. Patrick Carrigan 14. Harry Grant 15. Moeaki Fotuaika 16. J’Maine Hopgood 17. Selwyn Cobbo 18. Felise Kaufusi 19. Brendan Piakura 20. Ezra Mam. Coach: Billy Slater

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