FORMER Queensland and Australian hooker Kerrod Walters believes Noosa product Jake Friend has turned his life around and emerged as a genuine State of Origin prospect.
A two-time premiership-winning player for the Brisbane Broncos, Walters believes Friend boasts almost all of the attributes that make a great rake.
"Mal (Meninga) and the Queensland coaching staff see him as a potential Origin player of the future and I see no reason why he wouldn't be either," Walters said.
"He's tough, he's durable and he's got a good work rate in defence.
"In attack, he throws a nice pass from dummy-half and he seems to take the right option on most occasions, so I think that (Origin) is the next step."
The 165cm, 86kg ball-player has been a standout among the Sydney Roosters this season.
"He doesn't take a backward step and is always looking to create things. I think that's an important key for a number nine, to be creative, and he certainly ticks that box," Walters said.
Friend was in the headlines for all the wrong reasons in 2009, when he was found guilty of drink driving and had his contract torn up after he was charged for refusing to pay a taxi fare.
But he went through counselling and rehabilitation and signed a new contract with the club the following year.
It proved a turning point, as he went on to help steer the Roosters to the grand final in 2010.
Friend burgeoned as a player last year, and he was selected in Queensland's emerging Origin squad earlier this year. He has been among the best hookers in the competition this campaign.
"Obviously a few years ago he went through a bit of a period when he was in a bit of strife but to his credit he's turned things around and made every post a winner, both on and off the field," Walters said.
"He was pretty young when he went down there and it was a big move, moving from the Sunshine Coast to adapt to the Sydney lifestyle.
"He was thrown into that sort of environment. But to his credit he's come through the other side and he's playing some really good football and it looks like his life is on track."
Friend told Fox Sports yesterday he was ready to play State of Origin but Australian and Queensland captain Cameron Smith appears to have a mortgage on the number nine jersey.
His avenues into the team could be as a long-term replacement for Smith, 28, or as an interchange player.
But Walters, who lives at Mooloolaba, said Friend might need to prove his versatility to earn a spot on the bench.
"I think they'd look more at players like Cooper Cronk or Daly Cherry Evans, who can cover halfback or hooker. Whether Jake or someone like Andrew McCullough can do that, it remains to be seen," he said.
Walters also thought one area Friend cold improve on was his decision-making.
"If anything, the key for him is to build on taking the right options," he said.
"That's one thing that makes Cameron Smith stand above most hookers. Nine times out of 10 he takes the right option. That's something that takes a bit of experience, so that's probably one thing he could improve on, as all young players can."