NRL: Former Roosters hooker James Aubusson said he believes the form of current No.9 Jake Friend is so good that Queensland selectors must find a spot for him in their squad for next year's Origin series.
Friend has been a workhorse in defence for the Bondi club this year, averaging over 37 tackles per game, while being at the heart of a sparkling attack.
Friend will be a vital part of the jigsaw if the Roosters beat Manly in the grand final at ANZ Stadium tomorrow, as the Tricolours look for their first premiership since 2002.
Aubusson prematurely retired in 2010 at just 24 and after 58 first-grade games, after enduring six operations in three years, and also because of the emergence of Friend.
"This year Jake has taken his game to a new level. He's been the player of the year, bar none," Aubusson said of the Noosa junior.
"The question on whether he should be part of the Maroons set-up is a no-brainer. They should get him into the camp and groom him to be the next No.9 after Cameron Smith.
"He wouldn't look out of place at Origin level now if he got the chance."
Ballina junior Aubusson said his former teammate had not changed a great deal since finding himself in a slew of ugly off-field incidents in 2009 and 2010.
Friend is now firmly entrenched in the Roosters' leadership group under coach Trent Robinson.
"He just hung around with the wrong people back then and made some poor decisions," Aubusson said.
Aubusson is expecting tomorrow's premiership decider to be close, and he narrowed it down to one person potentially holding the key to victory - Roosters prop Jared Waerea-Hargreaves.
"He's as fit, big and damaging as I've ever seen, and he didn't play last time the two sides met (in week one of the finals which the Roosters won 4-0)," Aubusson said.
Aubusson also singled out his brother Mitchell, a Roosters second-rower, for praise.
"He's the most settled he's ever been, living in Coogee with his partner, which is really helping his game," Aubusson said.
"At 26, he's only going to keep getting bigger and stronger, and he's a big chance to break onto the rep scene in the next few years."
Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.