Luckless Friend had Origin written all over him

I’ve got to say Jake Friend seems one of the unluckiest blokes in the NRL right now.

He’s been a warrior and a great player for a decade. He was next in the queue behind Cameron Smith for many years, when it came to Queensland and Australia, and also behind Robbie Farah at times at Test level as that back-up hooker.

They are a couple of quality players – Cameron probably being the best No.9 of all time and Robbie being another tenacious and talented runner around the ruck.

Now with the news that Friend will need surgery to fix a torn bicep muscle, it seems once again that luck has deserted him with the rep season nearly upon us.

He is one of those guys who unfortunately seems to be in the wrong place when an opening comes up.

The Roosters wouldn’t think that as he’s been remarkable for them and now into his 12th NRL season with them.

However, from a rep footy perspective it seems he’s not had the rub of the green.

But can I make the point firmly, that Jake Friend never really needed luck to become the Queensland No.9. He has all the necessary attributes that you need and want in an Origin player.

We often hear the words “he has Origin written all over him” when discussing players that up for selection in either the Maroons or NSW Blues sides.

There’s no doubt that Jake Friend would be a great Origin player.

He’s got the mental aptitude, the strength of character, the physicality, the workrate, the effort on effort to play Origin.

In my mind, he would be an ideal No.9 for Origin in 2019 – but injury has intervened.

Certainly, Jake’s form at the start of the 2018 NRL season dented his chance of taking that No.9 spot once Cameron announced he was retiring just before the State of Origin series began.

That was a critical time for Friend and sometimes in this game you need to be at the right place, at the right time, especially when it comes to rep footy.

We all saw how he eventually turned things around, played every game for the Roosters last year, and ended up being the co-captain of a premiership-winning side.

He also had a great year in 2016 and on the back of that he was named in the Australian side for the Four Nations tour to the UK. He was one of seven new faces I had in the Kangaroos squad then, with an eye to the future.

Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga with Jake Friend in 2017.
Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga with Jake Friend in 2017.

I always thought he was the second best hooker in the game.

When you go on tour you take two hookers and Jake in my eyes was right up there with Cameron. So he got his opportunity to play a Test. It was a start for him but by 2017-18 others were emerging.

Jake had that slip in form and then Damien Cook comes on the scene, excels for South Sydney and NSW and is in the Test side by October.

At the time Jake was picked in the Australian team he had been playing a little bit at No.13 for the Roosters. He showed his versatility there and was comfortable at lock if need be, and could also play at No.14 off the bench.

Then we had Michael Morgan playing well in that utility role for Queensland and the Kangaroos. Last year it was Ben Hunt at No.14 in the Australian side, based largely on his performance in Game III of Origin, so again Jake missed out on the No.9 or No.14 spots.

It was a three-horse race for the Queensland No.9 spot this year, between Jake, Ben and incumbent Andrew McCullough.

In my eyes, Jake and Ben were the stand-outs because when you go into rep teams if you can play a number of positions that really helps.

Andrew McCullough is just a No.9 and while he is a very good one, who can play 80 minutes, if you lose someone in an Origin game, you need that flexibility I reckon.

Now we’ve got people like Victor Radley and Tyrone Peachey coming through, who bring those options of a number of positions with them.