Footy star opens up about brain-damage fears
Jake Friend admits he wonders if a series of concussions could one day lead to brain damage as he prepares for his hard-fought Queensland State of Origin debut this Wednesday night.
Friend's maiden Maroons outing in Origin I at Adelaide Oval is 12 long years in the making and along the way, the tough-as-nails Roosters hooker has suffered a number of head knocks during his decorated 263-game NRL career.
The 30-year-old suffered a concussion in a game against the Bulldogs two years ago.
He then copped two head knocks in the space of a month in the lead-up to this year's NRL playoffs, missing the Roosters' opening finals clash against Penrith after failing cognitive tests, before returning for Sydney's semi-final loss to Canberra.
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Sports around the world are now on high alert to the potential perils of concussions. NRL Immortal Andrew Johns has revealed his epilepsy diagnosis could be a result of playing with concussions. Last year, it was discovered following the death of Steve Folkes that the Bulldogs legend was suffering CTE, a brain disease linked to repeated head knocks and concussions.
Tests with Roosters doctors have cleared Friend of any serious brain trauma, but ahead of his Maroons debut in Origin I, Friend spoke of his relief at the findings, revealing he has considered his long-term welfare.
"It was definitely a weight off my shoulders (to be cleared)," Friend said.
"Because you do start to think about it (brain damage) and wonder if you are doing any serious or long-term damage to yourself.
"But there's a brain there and I think it's working pretty well."
Friend's finals campaign was in jeopardy after he suffered an accidental head clash with a Roosters teammate in his side's 60-8 loss to Souths in the final round of the regular season.
The rugged rake was cleared of a suspected broken cheekbone, but the more serious issue was the latest concussion Friend had suffered in the process.
Few players in the NRL put their body on the line like Friend. Since his NRL debut in 2008, the Roosters warhorse has amassed a staggering 11,235 tackles and run for 9174 metres. Friend has racked up 1000 tackles or more in six of his 13 NRL seasons.
Friend's body has taken a battering - he almost died in 2014 after suffering a punctured lung in a game against the Storm - and the years of sacrifice have made him acutely aware of the brutal nature of the NRL.
"With my head stuff, I had to get a few things ticked off to play that last game (against Canberra two weeks ago)," Friend said.
"All of those results came back really well so I was able to take part.
"Either way, you want to know, whether it's good or bad.
"You have to start thinking about your life post-footy. But the results came back and everything looked really positive.
"It wasn't how he wanted to finish as a club team but the last few weeks have been really refreshing for me and I'm excited to be in the squad."
A busted arm denied Friend his State of Origin debut last year, a scenario that triggered fears the Noosa junior would never clinch the Queensland jersey he has coveted for a decade.
But, finally, the premiership-winning hooker will wear Maroon in the 2020 series opener.
"Playing Origin is something I've always wanted to do," he said.
"As a kid growing up in Queensland, you gather around and watch it (Origin) with your family and ride every play. I did that all the way through my career.
"I've been lucky enough to be involved in the finals for the past few years and I suppose there is a similar atmosphere to an Origin game.
"The actual game is something I'm excited about. I enjoy that big-game atmosphere. I haven't played Origin but I know what a grand final is like.
"I've always loved the toughness or Origin, the speed of it.
"Seeing blokes do effort on effort and coming up with big plays ... it's something I've always wanted to be involved with."
Originally published as Maroons star opens up about brain-damage fears