Trent Robinson has hailed Jake Friend as the toughest hooker he's ever seen as the Roosters rake returns to the field just three weeks after a potentially life threatening chest injury.
Friend is set to make a remarkable comeback from the lung condition that saw him spend 48 hours in intensive care and lose two litres of blood – almost half the amount carried by an average adult –after the Roosters’ win over Melbourne in Round 25.
Robinson confirmed to the press on Thursday that Friend had passed a contact session during the week as well as a number of scans and tests, and would take his place against the Cowboys in Friday night's semi final at Allianz Stadium.
Asked if Friend's injury, diagnosed as a Haemothorax – a collection of blood in the blood in the pleural cavity – had been life threatening, Robinson responded:
"I'd say it was, if it kept going that way."
"He was in good care as they were draining that blood. But it does sound life threatening and there were some scary moments for him and family, and our club."
Initially thought to have been ruled out for the season after he woke three weeks ago complaining of shortness of breath, dizziness and vomiting, Robinson confirmed Friend had tried to play last week against Penrith, but club doctors ruled him out.
Robinson rated the 25-year-old alongside skipper Anthony Minichiello and former NSW captain Kurt Gidley as one of the toughest players he had come across, and without peer when it came to those wearing the no. 9 jumper.
"Toughness comes in different forms for different guys," Robinson said.
"As far as hookers who stand in the middle of the park with all those big guys around him, there's none tougher than Jake.
"His mentality is a big one. He's passed all the physical tests, the way he recovers after training, his contact session; all the physical markers are there. But sometimes you get some doubt in players; they get that look in their eye.
"But Friendy's been hounding us since probably before last game. He's proved himself enough this week and he'll be ready to go."
Friend's inclusion means only the absence of reserve forward Dylan Napa (suspension) is keeping the Roosters from full strength. It's a far cry from the lead in to their last clash with the Cowboys in Round 10, which wound up as a seven tries to two, 42-10 drubbing in Townsville.
Halfback Mitch Pearce sat out that game, suspended by the club for being arrested in Kings Cross after a nightclub incident, while the Roosters also lost back-rower Boyd Cordner prior to halftime with an ankle injury.
Pearce credited the heavy loss as a wake-up call the premiers needed midway through the year, from which they recovered to win 11 of their next 14 games and claim back-to-back minor premierships.
"It was disappointing, it was probably our worst performance of the year," Pearce said of their last clash with the Cowboys.
"That period after was really good. We had about four or five wins there. So it probably was a mini turnaround.
"After that incident it was definitely a big focus for me knuckling down and working really hard, and as a whole team."
The Cowboys themselves have gone on from that 32-point win in May in emphatic fashion, and with Robert Lui's combination with Johnathan Thurston at the scrum-base, North Queensland are arguably better placed than ever before to break through for the club's maiden premiership.
Coming into the match on the back of four straight wins, including a 24-0 first half demolition of Brisbane last week, Pearce admitted the Tricolours will have their hands full containing the visitors.
"They're going to be good, no one's got any questions about that," Pearce said.
"They've got as good a forward pack, Robert Lui's playing as good as any five-eighth and Thurston's the best player in the world.
"They're hungry as ever, Johnathan Thurston and their Australian pack have played in big games for a long time, more experienced than anyone and they’re hungry so it's pretty tough."