Josh Hannay could be new Eels coach: J’maine Hopgood

Jasper Bruce |

Maroons assistant Josh Hannay (left) is being talked up as a potential new Parramatta coach.
Maroons assistant Josh Hannay (left) is being talked up as a potential new Parramatta coach.

Josh Hannay would be a strong choice for Parramatta’s vacant head-coaching job, Eels forward J’maine Hopgood says, after the pair reunited ahead of Queensland’s triumph in State of Origin I.

Craig Fitzgibbon’s right-hand man at Cronulla, Hannay is considered one of the NRL’s top assistant coaches and has been linked with the Eels vacancy since the struggling NRL club fired long-term mentor Brad Arthur last month.

Hannay has been on the Maroons coaching staff since Billy Slater took charge in 2022, working primarily with the outside backs and cementing himself as a popular figure with the playing group.

The 44-year-old has twice taken the reins as an interim head coach – at North Queensland in 2020 and then the Sharks, who he guided to within a sliver of the 2021 finals.

The only Eels player selected for Origin I, Hopgood has known the coach since the Hervey Bay product earned selection in Hannay’s Queensland under-18 side in 2017.

Maroons player J'maine Hopgood.
J’maine Hopgood enjoyed a memorable Origin debut against NSW on Wednesday night. (Mark Evans/AAP PHOTOS)

Hannay dodged questions about his interest in the Eels job on Wednesday, though said he had previously “made it clear” he had head-coaching aspirations.

After the Maroons’ 38-10 win on Wednesday night, Hopgood was confident the 44-year-old would be up to the task of taking charge at Parramatta.

“Of course I’m going to say that,” he told AAP.

“I’m not too sure what direction (the Eels) are going. If that’s one, then yeah, ‘Head’ is doing a good job. But it’s above my pay grade.”

During camp ahead of his Maroons debut, Hopgood was struck by Hannay’s rare combination of football and people skills.

“He’s easygoing, he’s easy to have conversations with, which is a good thing,” Hopgood said.

“But he’s also very footy-smart at the same time. He’s spent a fair bit of time as an assistant coach at different places.”

Hopgood was solid from the bench on his Origin debut, but his most memorable moment came after halftime when he was whacked to the ground in a bruising tackle from NSW’s Liam Martin.

The shot came as the 12-man Blues began to assert themselves on the contest after losing Joseph-Aukuso Suaalii to an early sending-off.

“Trust me, it hurt,” Hopgood said of Martin’s shot.

“(But) Billy mentioned after the game, that’s one where some boys might drop the ball or make an error. As much as it hurt, I was glad I held onto (the ball).”

A fired-up Martin was at his chatty best after the shot, with Hopgood refusing to reveal details of his former Penrith teammate’s remarks.

“Things I can’t say here, a lot of swear words,” Hopgood said.

“Me and ‘Marto’, we’re good mates. We got along pretty well out at Penrith, we were both pests out there. 

“He definitely let me know about it after (the challenge).

“After the game, I said, ‘Well done, mate’. He got the shot, but we got the win.”