RENEE MCKAY

Tough Friend indeed right man to fill role for Qld

QUEENSLAND ironman Gary Larson has given Noosa's Jake Friend the ultimate Origin endorsement but warned the Roosters rake not to become a Cameron Smith wannabe.

The 24-year-old former Pirate is on track to replace Smith after the 2016 series and has been training with the Queensland team on the Gold Coast this week.

Larson, who attended Men of League's annual State of Origin function at Mooloolaba Surf Club yesterday, said Friend has proven at the Roosters that he has the mentality and aggression to play in rugby league's toughest arena.

"He's gutsy, that's the first thing you notice and that's the first thing you need, because it's tough out there," Larson said.

"You just have to look at how he handles himself at an NRL level to know he could take it.

"He just has to play his natural game and do what makes him successful at club level, because that's the key to success. The guys who don't succeed are the ones who get away from what makes them successful at club level."

The ultimate warhorse, Larson played 24-straight Origins before retiring in 1998 and held the consecutive games record until halfback Johnathan Thurston surpassed it last year.

The 47-year-old, who drives dump trucks for coalmines near Gladstone, said coach Mal Meninga named Friend (pictured) as 19th man for game one because he wanted to give the future Maroon time to learn with Origin veterans.

Larson said Meninga's ability to equip modern players with the passion of Queensland greats was the key to the record-smashing eight-series winning streak.

"When he first came in, he brought in the legends to share what it meant and the current players now understand it, they get what it means to play for Queensland," he said.

"THAT'S the most important thing, that ability to rely on the guy next to you and know that he's going to do his job," Larson said.

"That's why Queensland has been so good, these guys are all mates and they know each other so well."

"Now they are the ones carrying on that tradition and when new guys come into the team, they know what to expect."

Larson's highest praise was reserved for North Queensland Cowboys co-captain Matt Scott, who he believes could be one of the greatest props to pull on a Maroons jersey.

Larson said Scott deserved to be in the same class as legendary props Greg Dowling, Martin Bella, Steve Price, Petero Civoniceva and Shane Webcke. "He's carrying on that front row tradition," Larson said.

"He's built in that mould - a no-nonsense, hard-running player who knows what his team needs him to do."

Larson said Scott was similar to New South Wales legend Glenn Lazarus, who played 19 Origins, 21 Tests and won grand finals with three different clubs.

"He just doesn't stop, he's everywhere," Larson said. "His form in the last two NRL games has been unbelievable - if he can carry that into Origin, we will be very hard to beat."


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