Will Hopoate returns to State of Origin football after a two-year absence. Photo: Getty Images
NSW will bank on an untried centre-wing combination after Josh Dugan and Will Hopoate were named to make their returns for the Blues for Origin II.
Blues coach Laurie Daley has made three changes to his game one side with Dugan to play in the centres and Hopoate on the wing to replace injured brothers Josh and Brett Morris. Greg Bird, who missed game one through suspension, returns to the back-row.
Bird’s inclusion has forced a reshuffle to the forward pack, with skipper Paul Gallen switching from lock to prop. Canterbury back-rower Tony Williams has been dumped to make way for Bird.
Hopoate has capped a remarkable return to the Origin arena, having not played for NSW since 2011 before embarking on a two-year Mormon mission. He will play alongside Dugan, who is just two games into his switch from fullback to centre for club side St George Illawarra.
Daley is a big fan of Dugan, but also believes Hopoate has shown enough in his return to rugby league to justify selection on the wing.
"Josh [Dugan] is a footballer and he was close to our best player last year in the series, albeit in a different position," Daley said.
"We're confident he can handle it [playing centre]. And Will, while he's been out of the game over the last two years ... I think the games he's played this year he hasn't looked out of place. He played well in the City-Country game.
"I don't know if I can get a read on how happy he was. I don't really know him that well. He said thanks for the opportunity and he's a well-mannered boy, very respectful and he'll be a part of this team for many years to come."
While Hopoate has been strong for Parramatta over the first three months of the season, Daley admitted there were facets of his game that were still developing.
"Obviously there are areas he needs to improve on, but he's a guy that's willing to learn and takes in information very well," Daley said.
"And you can see from his first game how far he's come."
With Bird returning from suspension, Daley insists it was a tough decision to omit Williams from the side.
"I think it's always difficult to leave anyone out of a side that's going so well, but fortunately for us we've got Greg Bird coming back," Daley said
"I had to find a position for Birdy and T-Rex [Williams] was the unlucky one."
While the Maroons picked a 22-man squad, Daley refused to criticise his opponents.
"I don't think they've panicked," Daley said.
"They had six guys in their 22 that played last night and they weren't really sure how those guys would pull up. They wanted to train and to train today or train tomorrow and they wouldn't have been able to do that with those blokes part of the team. All reports we're getting are that guys like Slater and Inglis will be playing, Cherry-Evans will be playing ... they're not too serious."
Gallen said he is happy to move to the front-row.
"I had to make room for my mate Birdy. I've been in the front-row before. It doesn't worry me one bit," said Gallen.
"I know how upset he [Bird] was to miss game one. It was a harsh penalty. He was upset. He is great to have in the team. He is a real leader."
A win for NSW next Wednesday at Sydney Olympic Park would end Queensland’s eight-year Origin dominance after the Blues won the opening game in Brisbane last month.
The Blues squad will fly to Coffs Harbour on Tuesday afternoon.
Blues team: Jarryd Hayne, Will Hopoate, Josh Dugan, Michael Jennings, Daniel Tupou, Josh Reynolds, Trent Hodkinson, Paul Gallen, Robbie Farah, Aaron Woods, Ryan Hoffman, Beau Scott, Greg Bird. Interchange: Trent Merrin, James Tamou, Luke Lewis, Anthony Watmough.
with Michael Carayannis