‘I wondered if I’d be picked’: Friend makes up for lost time
Jake Friend admits he had almost given up hope of an Origin debut after a torturous 12-year struggle to clinch his maiden Queensland jumper.
Friend was magnificent in his belated Maroons baptism, making a game-high 50 tackles to form the backbone of Queensland's epic 18-14 upset of NSW in the series opener at Adelaide Oval.
Underlining the grit of his defensive half-century, Friend made 22 tackles more than Queensland's next best tackler Daly Cherry-Evans, who amassed 28 at halfback.
Kayo is your ticket to the best sport streaming Live & On-Demand. New to Kayo? Get your 14-day free trial & start streaming instantly >
The performance was vindication that Friend could perform in the code's toughest arena, but the 30-year-old Roosters stalwart concedes he feared the Maroons ship had sailed.
Twice the fickle forces of fate crushed Friend. In 2018, he was poised for Maroons selection when he suffered a cracked sternum on the eve of Game One, handing rival hooker Andrew McCullough his Origin debut.
Then last season, the Noosa junior ruptured his bicep in round seven against the Dragons, again destroying his Origin dreams as Ben Hunt walked into the No.9 jumper.
Friend's Origin wait has been so long he has had time to amass three premierships and 263 first-grade games. Finally, he has scaled the Origin summit, which at times felt like looking up at Mt Everest.
"You always wonder if you will ever get picked," he said.
"Obviously I am getting on. It is a young squad and they could have gone with more debutants all over the park.
"But it was never something that weighed me down.
"My priorities were to play well at the Roosters and I felt if I did that, that would get me a Queensland jersey eventually."
Even this time, Friend had some perceived impediments. Hunt was the reigning Queensland player of the year, while there was a push for boom hooker Harry Grant to be blooded after his outstanding season at the Wests Tigers.
But, in the eyes of coach Wayne Bennett, Friend was one of the first picked. The super coach views Friend's competitive mentality and toughness as the glue that bonds this youthful Maroons outfit.
"Jake is the ultimate pro," he said.
"I have great respect for what he has achieved in the game. Letting people down is simply not in his DNA."
Friend said he relished not only the frenetic Origin exchanges at Adelaide Oval, but his role in Camp Maroon.
"It's been a great week, it's an awesome bunch of boys and we have worked and trained hard," he said.
"Playing Origin is something I've always wanted to do and it lived up to everything I thought it would be.
"Origin is fast and tough and it's a style of footy I have always wanted to be involved in and loved watching.
"I am stoked to be part of an Origin series and get that first win, but there's more work to be done."
Originally published as 'I wondered if I'd be picked': Friend makes up for lost time