NRL: Friend prepares to battle through rest of season

By Michael Brown

Nathan Friend hopes to play despite a shoulder injury. Photo / Greg Bowker
Nathan Friend hopes to play despite a shoulder injury. Photo / Greg Bowker

Nathan Friend hopes to get used to the winning feeling again after the Warriors' 20-18 defeat of the Cowboys on Monday night, but he will also have to get used to having little feeling in his troublesome shoulder.

The 32-year-old hooker made a welcome return to the Warriors after missing the first three games of the season after off-season shoulder surgery to repair nerve damage.

His impact was immediate. Not only did they win their first game in 12 attempts but he also gave the side greater thrust and structure with his crisp service out of dummy half.

In 67 minutes, he had 76 touches and made 34 tackles and one offload. But Friend's biggest influence couldn't be measured - the greater time and space halves Shaun Johnson and Thomas Leuluai enjoyed and the confidence that filtered through to his teammates.

The nuggety rake's powers of resilience are well known. Last season Friend played 75 minutes with a broken jaw but still made 53 tackles in a standout performance.

He just hopes his latest comeback endures because he couldn't feel his shoulder in the changing sheds after the match.

"It's just the way it is going to be for the rest of the season,'' he said after the match. "I just have to get used to the feeling of the numbness because I can't feel it at the moment. I have little power in the shoulder but it's enough to pass the ball and that's the main thing.

"The specialist probably had his fingers crossed. No one has really played on without a deltoid that doesn't work. It's an unknown. We had to bite the bullet some time and just see how it went. It felt OK.''

The Warriors can ill-afford to be without Friend at any time after their issues at hooker this season and he was named yesterday to start against the unbeaten Rabbitohs at Mt Smart Stadium on Sunday.

But they will probably be without Dane Nielsen, even though he was named in the side to face the Bunnies. The centre damaged rib cartilage and was helped from the field just before halftime against the Cowboys but Jerome Ropati came through the Vulcans' 24-24 draw with Windsor unscathed and could feature.

Ropati wasn't named in the squad, which included an extended seven-man bench, but there are still some decisions to be made over the fitness of a handful of players. Clubs are required to name their side for the weekend on a Tuesday, which gave the Warriors little chance to assess injuries after Monday night's match.

Along with Nielsen's injury, fullback Kevin Locke and utility Ben Henry both picked up head knocks against the Cowboys and will need to pass concussion tests.

"There are question marks over whether we'll have them all against the Rabbitohs but we're certainly hoping they are fit to play,'' coach Matt Elliott said. "On the positive side we have some more players coming back from injuries.''

Those players include Ropati and wingers Manu Vatuvei and Glen Fisiiahi, who were both named on the extended bench. Russell Packer is also in contention after receiving a clearance following his bicep injury.

Friend isn't the sort of character to get carried away by one win, although the importance of it can't be understated after a dreadful run of results that stretched back to July last year.

"Winning instils a little bit of confidence,'' he said. "The boys know they have what it takes to win and it was at home, so it was good to win in front of our fans.

"We really haven't achieved anything yet. It's a bonus for hard work. It needs to be a yardstick for us and we just have to run from there. There's no sense coming out next week and having a shocker.''

Warriors side to play South Sydney at Mt Smart Stadium, Auckland, on Sunday (4pm): Kevin Locke, Bill Tupou, Dane Nielsen, Konrad Hurrell, Ngani Laumape, Thomas Leuluai, Shaun Johnson, Sam Rapira, Nathan Friend, Ben Matulino, Feleti Mateo, Simon Mannering (c), Todd Lowrie. Interchange: Jacob Lillyman, Ben Henry, Elijah Taylor, Pita Godinet, Glen Fisiiahi, Manu Vatuvei, Sebastine Ikahihifo.

- APNZ

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