Rooster Friend now captain material
When Roosters hooker Jake Friend was at his lowest ebb in 2009, fired by the club for a string of off-field incidents and working as a kitchen hand in a Surry Hills cafe, he wasn't even allowed to make coffee.
The Noosa Pirates product was instead on dish duty out the back, just about the lowest rung on the hospitality ladder.
Five years on, and with captain Anthony Minichiello hanging up the boots come season's end, the nuggetty 24-year-old is now a genuine candidate to join names such as Flegg, Fittler and Beetson in captaining the proud foundation club.
Friend – who only missed his first game in over four years for the Tri-colours due to a hamstring injury a few weeks back – joins fellow vice-captains Mitch Pearce, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Boyd Cordner in contention to lead the Roosters in 2015.
Should that little bracketed 'c' appear next to Friend's name in the Big League match day programs next year it would cap a remarkable turnaround for the dummy-half that has seen him win a premiership, join the club's leadership group and work his way to the brink of Origin selection, a lifetime away from the sobering dose of reality he was dealt as a 19-year-old.
Friend had his first contract with the Roosters torn up after a 2009 altercation with a taxi driver came as the final straw in a string of alcohol-fuelled indiscretions.
He then spent the next five months working for $500 a week, cleaning tables, washing dishes and making sandwiches at Cafe Fouveaux, before being offered a second chance by the Chooks, one he has subsequently taken with both hands.
"I’d love to captain the team," says Friend, who returned from injury in the Chooks 36-point demolition of the Warriors on Sunday.
"There have been so many great ones throughout history and Mini is up there with one of the best.
"I'm not really thinking about it though, no-one is; we haven’t even talked about it. Mini is here and we’re worried about doing the job this year, our main focus is sending him out a winner."
"I don’t know if I’m [ready], I’ll leave that up to Robbo. I enjoy being in [the vice captaincy] role and it’s been good for me.
"I think it's made me mature on and off the field. It’s something I’ve enjoyed and I’ll keep enjoying whether it’s vice or whatever it is."
A more pressing assignment for Friend is the Roosters' crucial Saturday night clash with Melbourne, when he lines up on Storm, Maroons and Kangaroos skipper Cam Smith, the man he played understudy to when he was called up to Queensland's Origin squad earlier this year.
Friend has spent plenty of time studying Smith's game over the years through video sessions, and having watched the man in the flesh during Origin camp, says the way the 31-year-old handled himself off the field was the biggest lesson learnt during his first representative experience.
"He's a great player, it'll be a tough job against him this weekend," Friend says.
"I enjoy playing the best players in the position. Obviously I watch video, and he's got plenty of tricks under his sleeve, He has time and is just so composed.
"The best thing [from Origin] is just to see how Cam and all those players conduct themselves and train. What they do not on the field, but away from it, that's probably the most I got out of it."
Teammate Aidan Guerra prepared alongside the hooking duo during that week, and says he can see similarities between the pair despite being at different stages of their careers.
"Jake's still young as a footballer and Cam's achieved everything there is in the game," Guerra said.
"One thing that everyone can see that they have in common is that they're mad competitors and that they just have a will to win, and desire there just to be consistent and perform week-to-week.
"The last couple of years for Jake he's really grown into a strong leader at our club... His performance week-to-week and his work ethic and things like that; he really leads by example on and off the field. "
"Yeah, there's a couple of front runners and I think they're all worthy."