MAROONS assistant coach Michael Hagan has urged former Noosa Pirate Jake Friend to be patient in his quest for a State of Origin jersey and believes the rugged hooker may even earn a national call-up.
Although Friend was behind Australian, Queensland and Melbourne Storm captain Cameron Smith in the pecking order, Hagan, who put the Emerging Origin Squad through its paces last week, said the 23-year-old was doing all the right things to press his claims.
"Jake understands that all he can do is play well for his team (the reigning champion Sydney Roosters), which he's been doing for a couple of years now," he said.
"He's just got to be patient and keep working hard and his opportunity will come along at some stage, hopefully.
"He's now a premiership winner, which is going to set him up nicely for Origin or maybe a Test berth later in his career."
With a substantial age gap between Smith, 30, and Friend, the latter certainly has time on his side, but Hagan thinks Friend may even snag a spot in this year's Origin series, depending on injuries and form.
"He certainly has one guy in front of him in Cameron Smith, but you never know what might happen around Origin time and the make-up of the bench," he said.
"You don't know how the first six to 10 rounds are going to unfold ... Daly Cherry Evans is a guy who can play a bit of dummy-half as well so he might be initially considered for that role (the replacement for an injured Smith or as a utility on the bench), but injuries come across everyone and there's a fair bit of footy to be played between now and the first Origin."
Friend, who made his NRL debut in 2008, was one of the Roosters' best players in their charge to the title last year.
Hagan described him as an improved player who was ready-made for Origin.
"A COUPLE of years ago he was getting rotated a fair bit at dummy-half, whereas now he's probably knocking out 70 minutes a game," Hagan said.
"You've got to like his work rate and his toughness and I think his defence, for his size and the work that he does there, that is a big part of Origin and is what our team is about. That's a quality we're looking for.
"He seems to be a bit more creative out of dummy-half too. He's a bit sharper than most players there."
Friend experienced a tumultuous time in 2009 and 2010 due to repeated alcohol-related incidents but bounced back to become one of the game's most disciplined players.
"I guess he probably had to learn a few lessons the hard way and he was given a second opportunity by the Roosters when he was at a fairly critical point," Hagan said.
"He's obviously made the decision that he wants to be a pretty good professional football player and he's since worked very hard on and off the field and has been rewarded with a premiership ring."