Michael Burgess

Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday.

NRL: Havili has a Friend indeed

Siliva Havili has recently signed a new two-year deal until the end of 2016. Photo / Getty Images
Siliva Havili has recently signed a new two-year deal until the end of 2016. Photo / Getty Images

There's a new battle for the No 9 jersey at the Warriors but it is seems a friendly war.

Nathan Friend and Siliva Havili are competing for game time but it's not exactly cut-throat at the moment.

Friend talks of being a mentor for Havili and eventually playing only 20 minutes a game, while the rookie is happy to bide his time.

"I can't foretell the future but obviously he is a great talent," the 33-year-old Friend said of Havili. "The more time he gets out on the paddock, his confidence will grow and he will get more chances. So one day, we might change roles - he might have 60 minutes, while I have 20 minutes by the end of it."

As an aspiring hooker, Friend was tutored by Cameron Smith at the Storm and is happy to fill the same role for the 21-year-old Havili.

"I picked up a lot of good things from Cameron and he gave me some valuable tips," Friend said. "If I can help Siliva during training or with anything else, I will suggest it. There's no drama there."

Havili said the two have a good relationship, despite competing for minutes on the field.

"It's not about competition. It's team first," Havili said. "We want an environment where we can play well together. It will bring the best out of me and my time will come. I need to be patient and take that opportunity when it comes."

Both faced uncertain futures less than a year ago. Friend was unwanted by the Warriors and told to explore his options with other clubs. Havili was an undoubted talent but some in the club questioned whether he had the desire and commitment to make it in the NRL.

Eventually the Warriors retained Friend and have since extended his contract by another year, while Havili has recently signed a new two-year deal until the end of 2016.

For now, the duo are the answer in the crucial hooking role and last week's match against the Titans could become a template for the rest of the season, with Friend and Havili interchanging roles.

"As long as it's working, we will keep doing it," coach Andrew McFadden said. "Siliva gives us impact off the bench and I thought it sparked Nathan up as well."

It could be a masterstroke by McFadden. Friend bounced around like an enthusiastic rookie when he returned in the second half last week, and Havili still needs time to get used to the NRL. The status quo will also prolong Friend's career - making 30 tackles a game is quite different to 50 - and allow Havili a more gradual learning curve.

Havili played his first NRL game last month and is still raw, but demonstrated his potential during the Anzac test. He was probably the Kiwis' biggest selection bolter since Krisnan Inu in 2007 but handled the occasion well.

"I was so nervous," Havili said. "My roommate Adam Blair helped me to stay composed but I couldn't really relax or sleep the night before. The match went well and gave me a lot of confidence. It was quite unreal - a hooking battle with Havili versus Cameron Smith. I was like, 'what?'"

Havili, who is also studying podiatry, played in the outside backs until the age of 12 when he switched to hooker. He is a nuggety, strong hooker with pace and strength and good awareness out of dummy-half, and has also represented Tonga and the Junior Kiwis, as well as winning a premiership with the Junior Warriors.

The duo will be key to the right result today against Newcastle, who might present a tougher test than many think.

Though the Knights look vulnerable - they are second-last on the NRL ladder and have lost their last four games - they are back to full strength for this afternoon's match and pushed both the Bulldogs (16-12) and Sea Eagles (15-14) in recent weeks.

The key for the Warriors will be handling expectations - the return to Mt Smart, a number of key milestones, an unfancied opponent - they have historically struggled with.

- Herald on Sunday

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