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From Panther-in-waiting to Parramatta powerhouse, J’maine Hopgood is emerging as one of the best signings of the 2023 season.

Easter Monday’s win against the Wests Tigers was just his 15th NRL appearance but the former Panther continued to stake his claim as a front-runner for recruit of the year.

Signing with Western Sydney rivals Parramatta last year, Hopgood didn’t anticipate he’d be the starting lock in the Eels' opening four games, including one against his former club, but minutes on the NRL paddock is what the 23-year-old forward was chasing after making his debut almost two years ago.

Biding his time behind Kangaroos lock Isaah Yeo for the past few seasons, Hopgood played just five NRL games over two years at Penrith but the Hervey Bay product said his form as an Eel can be put down to the confidence that comes with consistent opportunities.

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“It’s good just to have some consistency, I think I played five games my first year and then four games last year,” Hopgood told

“I've played every game so far this year so it’s just good to not worry so much about what I’m doing next week or which team I’ll play in and just focus on what my role is for the team that week.

“That’s been the best thing for me, just being able to narrow my focus, nail my role and know that's all I have to do for the team.”

The return of Ryan Matterson (suspension) and Shaun Lane (injury) has shifted Hopgood to a bench forward role in recent weeks but the new recruit has still made a significant impact for Brad Arthur’s side.

Heading into Round 7, Hopgood has recorded two try assists, 15 offloads, an average of 127 running metres and laid the most tackles in his side to date (258).

Despite an obvious goal to nail down a spot in the starting 17, Hopgood said he has been happy to revert back to the bench, admitting being injected into a game with tired defence has its perks.

“It’s a different role but it was good to get out there after everyone was a bit more knocked up,” he said.

“It’s always good to have those guys in, they’re good quality players, so I have a bit of a new role coming off the bench.

“But whatever happens from now, I’ve just got to try make the most of my role and do my best. I’m happy with wherever I’m put, it’s just good to get out there.

"I’m still soaking up every opportunity I get in first grade.”

Moving from Queensland seven years ago to join the Panthers, Hopgood said it’s never an easy decision to leave a premiership-winning club but turning 24 this year, an opportunity to play more first-grade couldn’t be turned down.

'No better feeling': J'maine Hopgood

“It was always going to be hard to leave a successful club, but at the end of the day everyone wants to play first grade and I was at that age where I knew it was sort of now or never,” he said.

“Brad’s been awesome, he’s obviously given me a good opportunity here and I’m just trying to take that with both hands.

“He’s straight up and down, tells you how it is and it’s nice to know don’t have to do anything out of the ordinary for this team, I’ve just got to do my job.”

Bagging their second win of the season, the Eels will be hoping to go back-to-back on Sunday but Hopgood knows his side faces no easy task in taking on old rivals Canterbury.

Having spent several years with Bulldogs’ new head coach Cameron Ciraldo at Penrith, Hopgood knows the Bulldogs will be firing even with injuries ruling out Kangaroos flyer Josh Addo-Carr (ankle) and former Panthers teammate Viliame Kikau (pectoral).

Eels v Bulldogs: Round 7

“Cirro was outstanding for Penrith the last few years and he’s doing a great job over there so I’m sure he’ll be getting them up for this game,” Hopgood said.

“As you can see with how we started the season, there’s a bit of a target on our back with the boys making the grand final.

“Everyone was quick to jump on our backs after losing the first three but we were in a position in all three of those games to win.

“Every team is going to want to come with their best game and it’s a bit of a rivalry game against the Bulldogs so I’m sure they’ll be getting up for it. It will be good to have Junior (Tevita Pangai Junior) back next week as well to boost our middle.”

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Queensland Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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