An emotional Jake Friend has confirmed his immediate NRL retirement after 13 years in red, white and blue.
Friend said “extensive medical advice” around head knocks and injuries led him to call time on a 264-game career that saw him lead the Tricolours to back-to-back titles along with another title in 2013.
Delivering a video statement rather than the traditional SCG precinct press conference of fellow Roosters retirees, Friend struggled to keep his emotions in check when thanking teammates Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Mitch Aubusson and his long-time partner Jenna.
“It wasn’t an easy decision to come to but it’s one that I think is right, right for myself and right for my family and the Roosters,” Friend said.
“It’s been a hell of ride. It’s a tough way to go out but that’s footy and that’s life.
“To the players, I’ve been lucky enough here at the Roosters to play with a lot of legends of the game, some very talented footballers and awesome blokes as well.
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“I’m very thankful for everything that you guys have taught me.
“To my family, my mum, my dad, my two brothers, you’ve been there through thick and thin and been on the ride with me.
“You call me after a shit game, you call me after a good game and you always tell me I played awesome. So thank you for that even though you’ve been lying a lot of the time.
“To my fiancée Jenna, you are a rock, you do whatever I need to make sure I’m ready to play and you have done for the whole time we’ve been together.
“You’re a great person, a great woman and recently, a great mother.”
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Affectionately known as ‘Nugget’ from almost the moment he was scouted by club icon Arthur Beetson as a 15-year-old, the nickname has suited Friend’s no-frills playing style and knockabout demeanour down to the ground.
He was infamously sacked due to alcohol-related incidents in 2009, and even more famously worked his way back into favour as a Surry Hills sandwich hand before making the most of a second chance with the club.
Friend thanked club chairman Nick Politis and the Roosters powerbrokers that gave him that chance “all those years ago” when he stood in the boardroom outlining why he deserved another NRL contract.
He described current coach Trent Robinson as “the best coach I’ve ever had, and I’m a better player and man for the last 11 years I’ve known him.”
Club matriarch and long-time Roosters staffer Cathy King also received a special mention and promise of a pinot noir now Friend can truly put his feet up.
From rugby league’s scrapheap, Friend resurrected his Roosters career to the point he has led them for the past six seasons, playing through all manner of pain barriers to do so.
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Punctured lungs, ruptured biceps, fractured cheekbones were all overcome across the course of 13 years of first grade.
Even his 2019 grand final appearance was clouded by a calf injury before he eventually lifted the premiership trophy alongside co-captain Boyd Cordner.
A long-awaited Queensland Origin debut arrived just last November, just reward after his solitary Kangaroos Test appearance in 2016.
Robinson said Friend’s actions over words approach will hold him on good stead among the club’s most decorated players.
“Jake has been an incredible player and leader for the Roosters, and while I know that he won’t be comfortable with the accolades, it’s important we acknowledge his achievements over the years,” Robinson said.
“Jake’s place in Roosters’ history is assured. He is a man of integrity, and his leadership has been a key driver of the club’s success. He has made those around him better and I’ve loved coaching him.”
Friend suffered three concussions in his past six games, having been knocked out in round one against Manly at the SCG.
Away from the game Friend has set himself up with a plumbing business and cafe in Randwick and became a father for the first time last month.
The Roosters have already signed up hooker Sam Verrills as Friend’s long-term replacement.
Friend’s retirement will not provide the Roosters with any salary cap relief as NRL rules stipulate that dispensation from a medical retirement cannot be claimed in the same season an injury is suffered.