NRL: Friend still waiting on Warriors

By Michael Brown

Nathan Friend still doesn't know where he will be playing next season. Photo / Getty Images.
Nathan Friend still doesn't know where he will be playing next season. Photo / Getty Images.

Nathan Friend still doesn't know where he will be playing next season, but if anything, his form has only improved since being told by the Warriors he was free to look for a contract elsewhere.

The 32-year-old hooker is off contract at the end of the season and the club passed on their option of another year in 2014. They are still in talks with Friend, and could opt to keep him, but the imminent arrival of England fullback Sam Tomkins and Cronulla five-eighth Chad Townsend, as well as the emergence of young hooker, Siliva Havili have put the squeeze on.

It's widely believed Thomas Leuluai will slot into the hooking role next season - a position he has vast experience in - which would make Friend surplus to requirements. But there are many who have questioned the logic of that as the Warriors have won six of their last seven games with Leuluai at five-eighth and Friend at hooker.

"The Warriors would be mad not to keep Friend," former Kiwis fullback and New Zealand selector Richie Barnett said. "Leuluai is a good hooker but why change something that's working?"

Friend has a couple of offers but his priority is to stay in Auckland where his young family are settled and where he is a fan's favourite because of his honest and hard-working style. He is an 80-minute player who has averaged 44 tackles a game this season and he has also added valuable running metres in recent weeks.

He was excellent in last weekend's 24-14 win over the Wests Tigers, when he and halfback Shaun Johnson helped orchestrate a comeback after an ordinary first half.

"I don't know where I will be next year," the phlegmatic Friend said. "It's still a waiting game at this stage. We are in discussions at the moment but I'm not sure where they are going to end. Fingers crossed I can stay here for another year.

"There were a few [options elsewhere] but they are starting to dry up. It's unfortunate we got the news a little bit later, which hasn't helped our cause. When they told us, it was a little bit late in the season and a lot of clubs had sorted their roster for next year.

"I have known for the last four weeks I don't have a contract. I approach every game as if it's my last. I love the game I play and that's why I do it. When I get on the field I don't think about the exterior things. My wife does all the worrying for me."

The Warriors will hope they can cause Melbourne a few concerns on Sunday at Mt Smart Stadium in a game that carries tremendous importance for both sides. The Storm have lost three of their last four but have often struggled during the Origin period and need to win to arrest their slide and keep in touch with the top two sides.

The Warriors are one of the form sides of the competition but are still in 11th after their horrible start to the season when they won only two of their first 10 games. The logjam of teams vying for the top eight means they can't afford many slip-ups.

The Warriors will field the 17 players coach Matt Elliott named on Tuesday, with prop Russell Packer (hamstring) still at least a week away from making a return.

Warriors side to play Melbourne at Mt Smart on Sunday (2pm): Kevin Locke, Ngani Laumape, Dane Nielsen, Konrad Hurrell, Manu Vatuvei, Thomas Leuluai, Shaun Johnson, Sam Rapira, Nathan Friend, Ben Matulino, Feleti Mateo, Simon Mannering, Elijah Taylor. Interchange: Suaia Matagi, Jacob Lillyman, Todd Lowrie, Dominique Peyroux.

Storm: Billy Slater, Sisa Waqa, Will Chambers, Maurice Blair, Justin O'Neill, Brett Finch, Cooper Cronk, Jesse Bromwich, Cameron Smith, Bryan Norrie, Kevin Proctor, Ryan Hoffman, Ryan Hinchcliffe. Interchange: Jordan McLean, Tohu Harris, Siosaia Vave, Slade Griffin, Tim Gadsby, Ben Hampton (two to be omitted).

- APNZ

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