Waiting on a Friend to step up for Qld outfit
HE is a former halfback who has never started an NRL game at any position other than hooker, but Queensland selectors believe Jake Friend could shift into the State of Origin back row.
Maroons selector Des Morris said the Queensland coaching staff was confident the Noosa product could handle a stint in the back row as Maroons look to fill the void left by Cooper Cronk's injury.
"He's a pretty robust sort of a player and that's what we have to look at in the final make-up or mix of the team," Morris said.
"What's going to give us the most coverage and also give us the most impact?"
If healthy, Daly Cherry-Evans will take injured halfback Cooper Cronk's starting role and selectors are eying Friend as a possible replacement on the Maroons bench.
In the past, Queensland has had the luxury of players like Cherry-Evans and Karmichael Hunt, who could fill a number of positions from fullback to lock.
Friend has been a hooker since Queensland legend Arthur Beetson spotted him playing halfback at an under-15s state carnival and suggested dummy half might be his best position. Almost six full NRL seasons and two grand final appearances later, Friend has bulked up and his father Lester, who coached Jake throughout his junior years, believes he could handle the load of a lock or second rower.
"If you play in the middle, you play in the middle," Lester said. "He does it at club level."
"WITH his size (175cm, 92kg), it might be a little bit different carrying the ball up," Lester said.
"But he gets his metres at club level."
If Friend is named on the bench, Cameron Smith will effectively become the emergency pivot, but the captain is one of several Queensland players under an injury cloud.
Cherry-Evans will miss at least one week with a hip injury and Billy Slater will also miss Melbourne's game this week with a shoulder complaint.
Morris said Queensland selectors will meet next week to begin preliminary discussions about game two, allowing time for injury reports on the Maroons' battered stars.
"Obviously Jake will come into contention in some role," Morris said.
"We just need to find out what our damage is, what other positions we need to be looking at. There's an opportunity there for Jake, but he is probably limited to playing mainly hooker or backrow."