From his humble beginnings growing up in Queensland to captaining back-to-back Premiership sides in the famous Red, White and Blue - Jake Friend has done it all in a glittering, yet unheralded Rugby League career.
With 11,265 recorded tackles to his name over a 14-season career for the Sydney Roosters, Friend has left every fibre of his being each time he has taken the field and is pound for pound one of the toughest players the NRL has ever seen.
The defensive cornerstone of the forward pack for the best part of the last decade, Friend is the last remaining recruit of Club Legend Arthur Beetson. With a tough-as-teak tackling technique and no-nonsense work ethic derived from Beetson’s halcyon days, it’s almost as if Artie saved one final ounce of his Midas Touch for the inspirational skipper.
Arriving as a 15-year-old from Noosa and flying through the ranks at record speed, Friend’s meteoric rise was evident immediately as he graduated from SG Ball to the NRL in the span of just four months.
Making five appearances for the Tricolours in his debut year, It wouldn’t be long before he became a household name, and after making a strong impression in an otherwise disappointing season in 2009, his 21 appearances proved his credentials to wear the Club’s no.9 jersey long term.
Despite a host of Clubs after the Australian Schoolboy’s signature, it was early proof that the Rooster was meant to be adorned over his heart.
While a slew of off-field incidents threatened to prematurely cut his career short at the tender age of nineteen, with his contract in tatters at the end of 2009 and working a full-time job, Friend manufactured one of the great career reversals in an inspiring six-month display of hard work, determination and resilience to earn a recall to NRL squad in mid-2010.
It’s no surprise that the Roosters then stormed their way to the Grand Final later that season off the back of those very qualities exhibited by their prodigal son.
Although silverware would elude the side of 2010, Friend’s legacy of success was just beginning as he was named the Club’s Jack Gibson Medallist the next year, followed by an appearance for the Prime Minister’s XIII.
With the appointment of Trent Robinson as Head Coach in 2013, his game would rise to a whole new level. As Robinson instilled the dance of defence into the Club, Friend ensured his teammates were keeping in rhythm, as they completed a record six shutouts en route to the Premiership.
With his own defensive fortitude on display, Friend finished the Grand Final triumph making the most tackles of any Rooster on the field that night.
A man of the match performance in the World Club Challenge followed, as did a courageous showing in the 2014 ANZAC Day clash, where he was bestowed with the Ashton Collier Spirit of ANZAC Medal. As the Club farewelled a legend in Anthony Minichiello, Robinson appointed Friend as captain in 2015 - who would go on to lead the side on 121 occasions - kick-starting a period of success at the Club not seen since the storied years of the 1930s.
Statement from Jake Friend
Brushing aside a forgettable season on the field for the Tricolours in 2016, Friend continued to thrive as he earned a second appearance for the PM’s XIII while making his debut for the World All Stars and collecting his second Jack Gibson Medal, before culminating with an appearance in the green and gold of Australia as he climbed to the representative peak.
His tenacity and unyielding competitive spirit embodied the Sydney Roosters’ back-to-back Premiership teams; playing every single game of the 2018 season before making a shock appearance in the 2019 Grand Final, courageously leading one of the greatest defensive efforts in modern history despite an injury-riddled season limiting him to just five appearances.
While the likes of James Tedesco, Cooper Cronk, Luke Keary and Boyd Cordner are constantly - and rightfully - revered for their contributions, it is Friend that seems to be the forgotten man, despite his consistent herculean presence on the field.
Celebrating the Career of Jake Friend
Who could forget his crowning representative achievement in the 2020 State of Origin series? After finally earning his call-up and leading the Maroons to an unlikely series victory, Friend was then awarded the Ron McAuliffe Medal as Queensland’s Player of the Series - proving that he belonged on the grandest of stages. Season 2020 also highlighted his longevity, becoming just the fourth player in Roosters Club history to play 250 games in the top-flight.
With 264 first-grade appearances, 3 Premierships, 4 Grand Final Appearances, 3 World Club Challenges, 4 Minor Premierships - all for the Roosters - and a cabinet full of representative jerseys, individual accolades and trophies, the career of Jake Friend is one that will be celebrated for years to come - starting with the Club’s Round 11 match against the Brisbane Broncos.
With two promising youngsters plying their trade under him as successors to the no.9 jersey, you can believe that his influence won’t be forgotten any time soon.
As the likes of Sandy Pearce and Elwyn Walters stand tall amongst the most successful hookers to have pulled on the famous Tricolours, it’s the unassuming warrior in Jake Friend that very well might be standing the tallest.