Steven Holloway is the football writer for the NZ Herald.

NRL: Mara gets first dibs at hooker

Warriors hooker Alehana Mara. Photo / Getty Images.
Warriors hooker Alehana Mara. Photo / Getty Images.

Alehana Mara could be forgiven for feeling a little anxious after finding out he would be replacing injured Warriors hooker Nathan Friend for the third time in his short career.

Last season Mara got injured on two separate occasions while replacing Friend and is hoping third time is the lucky charm, now that he has first dibs at the unclaimed hooker jersey in 2013.

"Last year when Nathan got injured I stepped up to play a couple of games, but broke my leg during the match against Penrith," Mara said.

"I remember doing it and thinking that I could just run it off, but then I got it X-rayed and they told me I broke it."

After returning from his jaw-injury, Friend then injured his shoulder and once again Mara was in-line to make his mark on the NRL.

"When Friendy got hurt again I came back. Well, I was coming back that week, but then I got injured again. So I don't know what's going on with that jumper."

Mara will start at hooker in the Warriors trial match against the Gold Coast in Burleigh Heads this weekend and has been given the first shot at stamping his authority on the No 9 shirt, with Friend expected to be out until April.

The former Porirua panel beater is eager and excited to play. He said their pre-season workload had almost doubled since last year and was looking forward to seeing the results on the field.

"Last year in pre-season it was 7am-12pm, but this year it's been 6.30am-6pm. The long hours and the workload have been a big difference.

"Rehab, running, field work, lunch, boxing, weights, then you're stuck in traffic. It's been pretty tough on the Mrs."

Mara said he was impressed with new coach Matthew Elliott's regime, and appreciated his lighter side when he wasn't being 'coach'.

"He can be a bit of a joker, but he's been really good. He's real straight and doesn't beat around the bush.

"I haven't had much to do with Matty before he came here, so I'm looking forward to the opportunity of letting him see how I play and fitting into the mold of what he wants.

Elliott said that while Friend will be very sorely missed it has produced a great opportunity for someone else to step up.

"You've got Siliva (Havili) who is very well fancied, we all know that Thomas (Leuluai) has played hooker as well, and you've got Harry (Siejka) and Pita (Godinet) there that give us depth in the halves and Pita (Godinet) has played hooker as well," Elliott said.

"So they're going to make the decisions. I share the decisions with them and you guys, when they make them and that will be based on how they play in these trials. But Alehana has got first crack at it."

In the absence of usual captain Simon Mannering, prop Steve Rapira will lead the Warriors for the match which kicks off at 8.15pm (NZT). New signings Dominique Peyroux and Harry Siejka will get their first starts for the club.

Warriors team to play the Gold Coast Titans at Pizzey Park, Burleigh Heads, on Saturday, kick-off 8.15pm (NZT), is: Carlos Tuimavave, Glen Fisiiahi, Dominique Peyroux, Malakai Watene-Zelezniak, Ngani Laumape, Pita Godinet, Harry Siejka, Steve Rapira (c), Alehana Mara, Suaia Matagi, John Palavi, Sam Lousi, Sebastine Ikahihifo. Interchange: Atelea Nafetalai, Sione Lousi, David Fusitua, Aaron Nootai, Nathaniel Peteru, Siliva Havili, Konrad Hurrell, Sio Siua Taukeiaho, Trent Bishop, David Bhana.

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