Friend's role in setting Smith to stardom
It was the ankle injury that changed everything.
Recruited to the Melbourne Storm after playing under Craig Bellamy when he was an assistant at the Brisbane Broncos, Nathan Friend revelled in a gruelling pre-season as he sought to establish himself as the club's new No.1 hooker.
A young bloke by the name of Cameron Smith was also in the mix but like Friend had never played an NRL game at hooker heading into the 2003 season.
In his first year at coach at Melbourne Bellamy gave Friend the starting spot in a trial game before fate intervened two weeks before the start of the season.
"I went down there with 'Bellyache' (Bellamy) and started the trial and got two weeks out from the first game and I actually had an ankle operation," Friend tells NRL.com.
"I hurt myself at training and obviously Cam started that game (Round 1) and has never looked back.
"I didn't roll it or anything at training; it just pulled up really sore and didn't know what it was. I couldn't run on it, it was like a real nervy pain.
"They found out that I had an internal spur that kept hitting on a nerve that I had to get shaved so that's how it came about. It wasn't great timing for myself but who's to say what players play the first game? Cam probably would have taken the mantle anyway.
"We've seen how good he is and I was never going to get my position at hooker back with that guy but the time I spent there was unbelievable.
"I was at Brisbane and we had Luke Priddis at the time in first grade and he was an established hooker and Melbourne looked like a great choice for me because they didn't have any hookers so I went down there just for the opportunity."
Friend took until Round 15 before he worked his way into the Storm 17 and was handed his first starting spot in the NRL in Round 18 against the Cowboys, when Smith was in camp with the Maroons ahead of his Origin debut less than a month after his 20th birthday.
The pair spent four years working together before Friend joined the foundation squad of the Gold Coast Titans and he returns to AAMI Park on Sunday evening as Titans captain, ready to face off against his good friend for the eighth time of their careers as opposition hookers.
It will be an historic night in the fact that it will be the first time Friend and Smith have captained opposing teams and the 35-year-old veteran of 222 first grade games says it will be a proud moment in his career.
"It will be a proud moment. Having been alongside the guy for your years and having a great relationship with him and knowing what he's done in the game, to stand next to him and toss the coin, it will be special for me," said Friend, who played only 30 minutes of the Titans' Round 1 win over the Knights.
"Being close around Cam [at the Storm] we grew quite fond of each other and had a great relationship. I learnt so much off the guy and still look up to him and the way that he carries himself in the game."
So, given how well he knows Smith's game and temperament, is there a way to get under his skin with some well chosen words when they pack down for the first scrum of the game on Sunday evening?
"I'd have to ask his wife. She would probably be the only person who would know I reckon," Friend said of finding the Queensland and Australia captain's weak spot.
"It's kind of gone out of the game. There'll be a few passing shots at each other and that's about it.
"There's no one that really talks trash anymore because it's not worth it. Players are more focussed on what they need to do for the team to get the result and they don't worry about their opposition any more to be honest."