Michael Burgess is a sports writer for the Herald on Sunday.

NRL: Friend happy at Warriors though future undecided

Nathan Friend wants to play 80 minutes every week. Photo / Getty Images
Nathan Friend wants to play 80 minutes every week. Photo / Getty Images

Nathan Friend's future is set to be decided in the next two weeks, as the Warriors examine their hooking options for 2014 and beyond.

The Australian was signed midway through the 2011 season on a two-year deal, with the club and player holding an option on the third.

At the time, Lance Hohaia and Aaron Heremaia had done well sharing the role but the Mt Smart brains trust looked across the competition, saw the likes of Cameron Smith, Robbie Farah and Matt Ballin, and decided an 80-minute hooker was a key part of the jigsaw.

There is no guarantee that Friend will remain in Auckland next year. The hooker is said to be happy to stay but the club are still working through their options. Their pursuit of Todd Carney was revealing; it could be construed that, if the Cronulla player had arrived to play in the halves, then Thomas Leuluai (a hooker for the majority of his Wigan career) would be an option for the dummy half role.

In their current predicament, the club seems to need Friend's character, attitude and workrate more than ever.

"I've touched base with the club," says Friend. "I hope to hear something back in the next couple of weeks and sort out my future as soon as possible."

Pita Godinet's emergence has complicated matters this year. The 25-year-old has developed into a bona fide NRL No 9. At the moment, Friend and Godinet form part of the Warriors' best 17; Friend with the steel, Godinet the silk.

However, Godinet also takes up a precious interchange spot and needs to be used more than the 10 minutes he got against the Bulldogs two weeks ago.

"It's been tough for Pita," admits Elliott. "He's early into his first grade career but I've got a heap of belief in him. Nathan doesn't like coming off but he will have to evolve his game, so that's the case. We want to be making tough decisions about who is and who isn't playing. It is good to have that internal pressure."

"I am happy to be playing first grade," says Godinet. "But I am at the point where I am going to need more game time. I've spoken to Matt about that."

Meanwhile, the intensely competitive Friend wants nothing less than the full quota every week.

"I'm always a bit dirty when I come off," says Friend. "As an individual, you always think if something happens - 'I could have saved that'. I've played the 80 minutes for the last six or seven years and would be happy to do that again."

Ideally, the Warriors like to use Friend for the first 30 minutes and then bring Godinet on leading into halftime to, in Elliott's words, "buzz the team up". Godinet then stays on for a period into the second half, before the rock-solid Australian comes on to guide the team home. Potentially it could be a dynamic mix, though it will become increasingly difficult to keep both players happy.

"It's what we want," says Elliott. "We want to build competition. Getting that balance is not about pre-conceived ideas; balance is about how people are playing."

Godinet's development has been one of the positives this season. Previously seen as a utility, as a back-up in the halves in case of injury, Christchurch-born Godinet probably surprised himself with his own form. He still has erratic moments but offers vision, pace and unpredictability from dummy half.

"The coaches had a bit of doubt in me at the start of the year, mainly around my defence," admits Godinet. "But I proved them wrong in that last trial match [against Brisbane] and I earned my spot."

- Herald on Sunday

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