Maroons coach Kevin Walters has declared his "unbelievable belief" in Roosters hooker Jake Friend who is now on the cusp of fulfilling a lifelong dream.
When the 30-year-old veteran of 244 first grade games for the Roosters, including 18 finals matches and three premierships, strode into Maroons camp in Brisbane on Saturday it was as a proven warrior ready to make his long-awaited Origin debut in 2020.
Friend debuted for the Roosters in 2008 and subsequently had a taste of emerging Maroons camps during a decade where Cameron Smith was the first choice Queensland No.9.
Friend was overlooked by Queensland for Andrew McCullough in 2018 after Smith retired from representative football and last year a torn biceps and a broken arm limited him to just six games and he was unavailable for Origin selection.
Friend was emphatic when asked why he was ready to play for Queensland.
"It is something I have always wanted to do. It is a lifelong dream," Friend said.
"I enjoy the big games. I’ve loved every one of the grand finals and semi-finals that I have been involved with. I really enjoy that atmosphere of the big game.
"I enjoyed watching Queensland win all those years too, and being a proud Queenslander I would have loved to have played some part, but I was still cheering them on in a great era.
"It was not just Cam, but Billy [Slater] and Coops [Cooper Cronk]. It was a special group. It was awesome to watch and it is awesome to be involved in the camp this year."
Walters looking forward to Adelaide Origin
Walters described Friend as "a bloody good bloke and good Queenslander" whose Origin credentials were impeccable.
"In the bigger games when the game is on the line he has been there and experienced how to win which is very important," Walters said.
"My belief in Jake is unbelievable and I love what he does. It is so valuable everything he brings to the team.
"He has waited a long time to get to this level and was in emerging camps before where he was stuck behind Cameron Smith.
"Ben Hunt has been good the last 12 months but Jake wasn't available so he missed the whole Origin series."
Dragons halfback Hunt was one of the Maroons' best in the 2-1 series loss last year but if Friend is selected as starting hooker then Hunt could revert to the valuable number 14 role where he has shone in the past.
Friend's immediate goal is to lead the Roosters to World Club Challenge victory over St Helens later this month and to stay on the field after what was a difficult 2019 despite the joy of returning for the grand final win over Canberra.
"I am just looking forward to getting some footy under my belt for the start of the year and hopefully I can play well enough to put myself in the mix for the Origin series," Friend said.
"Rehab is very lonely and you do the same thing over and over. It was a long year but I have been lucky because that was the first year where I’ve missed a big chunk of footy.
"The positives are that the rest of the body is fresh, my arm is strong and I am doing everything."
Friend grew up idolising Darren Lockyer and recalled his first live State of Origin game as the first at Suncorp Stadium in 2003 where he sat up in the "nose bleed" seats cheering for Gorden Tallis's men.
"The atmosphere was unbelievable," her grinned.
"I watched all the games as a young fella… with mum and dad screaming at the tele and the boys all in their Queensland jerseys. I guess every Queensland kid has the same memories."
If all goes to plan Friend will finish his days of just watching State of Origin in Game One in Adelaide this year.
"If I am picked I will bring something. Everyone here [in camp] would want to be a part of that and bring the Origin [shield] back to Queensland," he said.
"There is a lot of footy to be played before that and my focus at the moment is getting my health right. I am excited to get over to the World Club Challenge and rip into that."