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Jake Friend – The Little General

By Dan Hutton on June 29, 2015 in People

Photo: Andrew Goldie

Photo: Andrew Goldie

Where are you originally from?
I grew up in Noosa in Queensland and lived there until I was 17, and then I moved down to the Eastern Suburbs.

Did the Roosters bring you down here?
Yeah, I signed with them when I was 15 on a scholarship, and then I came down in the last year of high school. I lived with a family in Coogee; the Baptist family looked after me for a few years.

Have you been around this area ever since?
Yeah, I’ve stayed in a few different spots around here. I’ve been in Coogee, Randwick and Bondi, but always in the east.

The move to Sydney must have been a big change; did you struggle with the transition?
Yeah, at first I didn’t really like it. Noosa’s a bit more relaxed and chilled than down here. It was a bit full on, and I had a bit too much time on my hands and carried on a bit. It was tough leaving my family, but I lived with a good family when I was down here and they looked after me really well. Now when I go to Noosa, I can’t wait to get back here.

What do you love about the Eastern Suburbs?
I love the beaches and I’ve met some good people down here. It’s good being able to go to the beach but also have the city right there if you want to go.

Do you have any favourite local haunts?
Courtyard Café in Coogee is my local. The owner, Dave Martin, is a good mate of mine and a massive Roosters fan. I go to Skinny Dips in Bondi quite a bit too, and the owner there, Reuben, looks after us well too.

What gets your goat about the Eastern Suburbs?
Probably paying for parking. I reckon I spend a fortune on parking and on parking fines every year. I made a New Year’s resolution a couple of years ago to stop getting parking fines. I got one two days later, but since then I’ve been pretty good. I still get the occasional fine. I probably spend $500 to $1,000 each year in parking fines.

How did you develop your passion and skill for rugby league?
I started playing rugby league when I was nine, for the Noosa Pirates. I wasn’t allowed to play up until then. I played Aussie Rules before that; Mum wouldn’t let me play league. From about the under 12s until the under 15s, I started making the rep teams and got a bit more serious about footy.

Did you always play hooker as a young bloke?
No, I played in the halves until I was 16 and then went to hooker, and haven’t been back to the halves since.

What strengths do you think you bring to the Roosters team?
Probably training. I like training and I enjoy it; I like to train hard and put 100 percent in at training and on the field.

Who’s the laziest bloke at training?
Jimmy Maloney is pretty good at not doing much. We call him Casper in the gym because he’s a ghost; he never lifts a weight. He does train when he wants to and he throws his body around in the games, but he doesn’t like weights or hard training, that’s for sure.

What’s it like playing under head coach Trent Robinson?
Robbo’s been really good for me personally. He’s really smart with dummy half stuff and my game has gone to another level since being coached by him. As a team, he manages us boys really well. He’s a good coach, but he’s a good bloke away from being a coach as well. I think a lot of the boys respect him for that. He’s been really good for everyone at the club.

During the build up to the 2013 grand final, what was the feeling like, particularly given you guys lost the 2010 grand final?
It was different to the 2010 grand final. In 2010 we felt like we lucked it in. We were thinking, ‘We’re in the grand final, how good’s this?’ In 2013, we talked about making it all year and we went in with an attitude that we weren’t going to lose.

What was better: winning a grand final as a 17 year old with the Noosa Pirates or winning an NRL grand final with the Roosters?
They’re both up there, and the Mad Mondays were good for both of them! The 2013 grand final win was one of the highlights of my career and life so far. It was an awesome day and week after; to work hard all year and then actually get the prize at the end was pretty cool. We still talk about the memories all the time as a group.

The Roosters have been a bit hot and cold this year; are you confident you can win another premiership?
We definitely want to be in the mix again, and hopefully be top four by the end of the season. We’ve talked about winning the premiership again, as you do every year. That’s the goal and everyone’s pretty focused. Whilst it’s been an up and down season, it’s not that we’ve been playing badly when we’ve lost. Hopefully in the back end of the season we’ll get going and really have a crack at it at the end of the year.

Do you think we’ll finally get the Rabbitohs versus Roosters grand final everyone’s been hoping this year?
It would be nice. As a player, the rivalry is pumped up by the fans and it’s pretty cool to play them every time, so a grand final would be incredible. It’s such a great rivalry and it would be cool if we won. It would be shit around the streets if we didn’t though, with all the Souths supporters bagging us.

Who did you support as a young bloke?
I loved the Broncos and Darren Lockyer was my favourite player at the time. I’m not a Broncos fan anymore, though, especially after they beat us in golden point earlier this year! I’m definitely lifelong Roosters fan now.

Cameron Smith is the incumbent hooker and captain of Queensland and Australia; do you think you can unseat him from his position now that he’s getting a bit old?
No, probably not. I think Cam will be there until he decides to retire. I might retire before him; he just keeps going strong. I’ve got to keep trying to play good footy for the Roosters and hopefully one day down the track I’ll get a chance at Origin and maybe for Australia, but it’s not really in my control.

You made the Queensland squad last year; have you enjoyed being around the state camp and has it made a difference to your game?
Yeah, I suppose it’s good to know that you’re in the mix and that they’re recognising that you’re playing well. It was great to get up and see what the camp was like. The culture in the Queensland team and seeing how those sorts of players train definitely helps your game.

What do you reckon the main difference is between State of Origin and club footy?
The emotion in it. The rivalry is pretty big and it’s the pinnacle of the game. It’s something that I’ve always wanted to play since I first started watching footy.

Do you see yourself as a one club player?
Yeah, I’d love to be. I’m signed with the Roosters until 2018, so I’ve got plenty of time here now. Hopefully I’ve got a few more years past that and I definitely don’t want to go anywhere. The Roosters have been good to me since I signed as a 15 year old, so I’ll hopefully play my career out here and maybe one day have a job at the Roosters.

If you were given the hypothetical option of staying at the Roosters on $250,000 a year, or playing out at Penrith on $500,000 a year, which would you choose?
I’d stay in the beaches for $250k. They’d need a million to get me to Penrith, I reckon.

Going back in time, 2009 was a tough year for you, marred by a few ‘indiscretions’; can you tell us about that time in your life?
Yeah, I had plenty of indiscretions. We came last that year in the comp, so it wasn’t a very good year as a team, and personally I got in plenty of trouble. I ended up getting sacked at the end of 2009. I suppose it had to happen for me to actually realise what I was doing and change my ways. Whilst it was a shit time, it’s probably made me a lot better person now and probably moulded me into the person I am now.

What was the catalyst for the indiscretions? Was it just a case of too much time and too much money?
Too much time, yeah. I was getting away with a lot of stuff, so I just kept pushing the limits and those limited ended up crashing down on me.

Were you a troublemaker growing up as a kid?
No, not really. I was a bit of a nerd at school until later on. I suppose I wanted to explore the big city and did plenty of that, and I got into trouble.

So was it just a case of being young and stupid?
Yeah, I think so. I knew some of the stuff I was doing was wrong, but I was young and thought it would be sweet. I wouldn’t do it again now, but at the same time I probably wouldn’t go back and change it. What’s done is done and it’s made me who I am now. The time out of footy probably made me realise how good footy is. I had to work at a cafe for four months, washing dishes and doing all the shit jobs.

What was that feeling like when the Roosters told you that you weren’t welcome back?
It was pretty upsetting. The Roosters said they had to sack you because I’d had too many chances, but they also opened a door and said, ‘If you want we’ll help you get back; if you can tick all the right boxes then we’ll have you back at this club’. I think they dealt with it really well.

Do you think that tasting life outside of professional sport made you realise how good a wicket you’re on?
Yeah, it did, 100 percent. My contract was terminated, so December 2009 was my last pay cheque and then it was like, ‘What am I going to do?’ I went home and spent a bit of time with the family over Christmas and hung up in Noosa for a while, then I came back down here and worked in a coffee shop. During that time I was training with Joe Thomas at Clovelly Surf Club, with Matt Garry in the city and doing jiu-jitsu at Bronte. I just worked and trained. It was during that time that I realised I just wanted to play footy.

You were named captain this year; how did the coach break the news to you?
Mitch Pearce and I are co-captains. Robbo called me up and told me to come around; I went to his place and he told me that I’d be doing it with Mitch. I was pretty proud, especially because I’ve been here since I was a kid and played under some good captains, namely Fitzy (Craig Fitzgibbon), Braith (Anasta) and Mini (Anthony Minichello). It was something that I’d wanted to do for the last few years and had been thinking about. I was just stoked to get the call up, and to do it with Mitch who I’ve been playing with since I first got here is great. I’ve grown up with Mitch. I was proud to be able to do it with him and lead a club that has a really rich history.

Do you have a couple of particularly close mates in the team?

Yeah, I probably hang out with Aidan Guerra the most; he’s another Queenslander. He doesn’t mind a cafe hop, so we just go from café to café when we’re not doing footy stuff. He gets his pale Italian body out up at the grassy knoll in Bondi; he’s always up there so I go and join him from time to time. I hang out with Dylan Napa and Mitch Pearce as well; they’re probably the main three.

Who is the biggest pest in the team?
Jimmy Maloney. He is always talking shit and always trying to be funny, but I don’t reckon he’s that funny. It makes the place fun though; it’s fun when it’s not you that he’s hassling, anyway.

Are there any up-and-comers at the Roosters that we should be looking out for?
Latrell Mitchell is in our under 20s and is only 17. He turns 18 later in the year and once he turns 18 I think he’s a good chance of making the first grade team. If not this year, then next year he will definitely be knocking on the door. The other one to watch is probably Vincent Leuluai. He’s a big front rower.

In your opinion, who is the best player in the NRL?
Johnathan Thurston. He can win a game for you and turn it around all by himself.

Who do you least look forward to tackling?
Greg Inglis is always tough, and Manu Vatuvei. When you kick the ball down to him and he decides he’s running back at you with that long run up, he’s a pretty hard bloke to tackle.

The Roosters have got a reputation as a bit of a glamour club; does the image match the reality?
It’s pretty glamorous for some of us! I think we’ve always had that tag. Everyone talks about the Roosters because we’re in such a good area in the Eastern Suburbs – that’s why we get labelled like that. We’ve got Bondi, nice beaches, the girls and all that sort of stuff. That’s why we get tarred with that brush. As a club and as players, we definitely put the hard work in. I’d say we’re more hard working than glamorous.

You’ve got some pretty high profile supporters; how do you find it hobnobbing with the bigwigs when it’s comes time to do that?
Sometimes it’s a bit strange. You don’t really know what to talk to them about. I don’t know if I’m smart enough to talk to them! Most of them are really good people and they all love their footy.

Do you support any charities?
We do the Steggles’ Charity Nest as a club and with that we do a fair bit of stuff with the Randwick Children’s Hospital. We go there as a team a couple of times a year. I also did a bit of work at the Entertainment Quarter with KidsXpress last year. It was pretty cool. We went down and hung with the kids and got into their paint room down there. You get to paint water balloons and you can go mad and throw the paint everywhere.

Do you have any advice for young players who want to make a career out of rugby league?
Put your head down and do everything you can. If you get the opportunity with a club, just put your head down, work hard and train hard. The blokes that train hard and fit in with the culture end up coming through.

You had a fairly serious health scare last year; can you tell us a bit about that?
I got a haemothorax against Melbourne, which is a bleed into your chest cavity. I got a knock in the game and I was a bit sore after the game, but I got an x ray and it was all good. I went home and I was lying down and I kept getting sorer and sorer, then I started to feel light headed. I stood up to go and have a shower to try to make myself feel better and I fainted on the floor. I woke my girlfriend up and told her I was in a bit of trouble. I actually called a hotline to see if they knew what I was going on. They were taking too long to answer me, so we brushed that and just called the ambulance. I actually ended up vomiting everywhere at home and the ambulance had to take me to the hospital. They drained about 2.5 litres of blood out of my lung and put a drain in there to stop the blood from building up. It didn’t stop so then they had to go in and do a quick operation and after that it came good.

How serious was it?
They said that within another two hours I probably would have drowned in my own blood. My original theory was that I’d wait until about 7am and then call our physio, so luckily I didn’t do that and my missus called an ambulance.

How long have you and your missus been together?
Four years. She’s actually from Noosa too, so I knew her from up there before I moved down to Sydney. When I got sacked, I went back up there for a bit and I hung out with her there, and then the year after she ended up moving down.

Has she been a good influence on your career?
Yeah, she’s trying to settle me down. She keeps me pretty grounded and tries to keep me in line as much as possible.

Do you have any role models in or out of the game?
My old man was a big role model for a lot of my younger years, just in the way he worked hard and looked after us as a family. He was always there. He coached me in my earlier years too. He loved the footy and always did everything he could for me.

Does he still critique your game?
Yeah, he still calls me after the game. He’s usually had a few beers by then, so he doesn’t mind telling me what I’ve done wrong or what the team’s doing wrong.

In an ideal world, what does the future hold for Jake Friend?
Hopefully I’ll play out my career at the Roosters, win a couple of premierships as captain, get a job for life with the club, then spend my time chilling out in Coogee or Bondi.