After playing leading roles for the Queensland Maroons throughout the 2020 series, the epic efforts of both Jake Friend and Josh Kerr have been officially acknowledged by the Maroons inner sanctum.
Coach Wayne Bennett today announced Friend is the recipient of the Ron McAuliffe Medal for players' player, and Kerr has taken out the FOGS Peter Jackson Memorial Award given to a player who shows “Queensland spirit”.
Bennett called both individually and let the squad know of those chosen for the accolades.
Bennett said, at the beginning of the series, he could not believe Friend was yet to play for Queensland.
“He’s made for State of Origin, as he proved across the three games," Bennett said.
“His leadership on and off the field was invaluable for us, and I thought his performance in Game I was right up there in terms of the great Origin debuts.
“I’m just really proud of him and glad he finally got this opportunity. I’m also really pleased his efforts have been recognised by his teammates. He’s a deserved recipient of the Ron McAuliffe Medal.”
Friend: 'Pumped to be here and get the opportunity to put on the maroon jersey'
Friend, 30, said it was "pretty cool" to be acknowledged by his team mates.
"I didn’t expect it," Friend said, adding "but the award that you want is the one from team mates".
"It’s very humbling. I’ve always wanted to play Origin but to then have your peers vote you as player of the series is pretty cool. It’s something that I will cherish forever."
Friend said the Origin bubble helped foster a tight-knit group who ultimately got the job done for Queensland.
"It was just a good crew... no egos. Everyone just got along and got the job done, which was the best thing," Friend said.
"There were a lot of young guys who will probably be in a Maroons jersey for a long time. It was everything that I thought it would be."
Friend said the highlight for him was the decider at Suncorp.
"You dream about playing there as a kid. Listening to the anthem, standing there at Suncorp with 50,000 was pretty cool," Friend said.
Bennett had nothing but praise for FOGS Peter Jackson Memorial Award winner Kerr.
“Josh brought an enormous amount of passion and energy to our camp,” Bennett said.
“The restrictions while in the bubble were tough at times and Josh was always there to lift everyone around him. His spirit epitomised what Peter (Jackson) was all about.
“He put everything into training and regularly spoke to the group about how much the opportunity meant to him and his family.”
Bennett added the other two squad members not to play, Patrick Carrigan and Hymel Hunt, were also invaluable inclusions in the bubble.
“Like Josh, they were tremendous as well over the three and half a weeks with everything they did," Bennett said.
Kerr was gobsmacked to receive the call from Bennett – a man he described as “the freaky man… an aura and superstar in the rugby league world” - about winning the award.
"I thought he was joking," Kerr said. "I didn’t really believe him. I didn’t play obviously so I didn’t think I was going to win anything. It’s pretty bloody special.”
Kerr said he would have loved to play, but it still meant everything to him to be involved in this year's series.
"I could probably talk for hours on what it means to me to be a Queenslander," Kerr said.
"They can have all the talent in the world but to be a Queenslander... I don’t know how to explain it... just the moment the boys put that jersey on and immediately they shoot up ten feet tall and play for each other.
"Being with your mates and playing for your mates and having your mates’ back... it’s such a Queensland thing. You look after your mates and play for your mates. It’s not for you… you might be hurting but you do it for your mate and that was really something that really stuck out to me in the camp.
"That’s what Wayne kept saying was going to win us the game. They have all the talent in the world, but we just have a team that’s willing to play for one another. It’s more a feeling… you can’t really describe but it’s just the feeling that you know you’re going to be okay because the person next to you has your back."
Kerr said it had been “such an incredible month for me”.
“To just be included and my name be tossed up and thought about… for me to be a part of that camp was just something special,” Kerr said.
“I want to play. I want to be part of that winning feeling and that winning team and to be part of that young culture that’s coming through and that new dynasty that we’re going to create ourselves.”