Christchurch is never far from Lewis Brown's mind but next Wednesday's first anniversary of the devastating earthquake in the city will be especially poignant for the Warriors utility.

"It's come round so quickly," Brown said. "It just feels like yesterday that it happened and to think they've come such a long way since that painful date. To me personally I will be grieving. It's not an anniversary you celebrate, it's one when you pay your respects to the people who died, their loved ones and the people who lost their houses. For me being such a Christchurch boy, I will definitely be paying my respects.

"Each week I play with them in my heart."

The February 22 earthquake killed 185 people and in tribute Brown played with a black armband under his jersey all last season.


While last year was an emotional one for Brown, it was a good one on the field for him at the Warriors - his late try against Melbourne helped send the team into the grand final against Manly - and his ability to play hooker will be an important card up new coach Brian McClennan's sleeve this term.

Nathan Friend will be the Warriors' top hooker, with Alehana Mara battling the new recruit for that spot, but Brown has also been training at rake and will add flexibility to the bench for McClennan.

"He's being trained up as a hooker," McClennan confirmed today. "He's going to start at back row this week [against the Sunshine Coast in Whangarei]. We're looking at him as a number 14; coming on playing some hooker, playing some back row, playing some lock. You get an injury at centre, he can play there without us changing a whole lot of people.

"With Lewis you can slot him straight in."

While Friend is regarded as an 80-minute player, an injury ruled him out for most of last season with the Gold Coast and McClennan said he must still be treated with care.

"I'm just mindful of Friendy that he missed most of last year and that's a lot of time off football. We need to build him back in. We've tried to do that as best we can so far. He went 40 minutes against Gold Coast and 60 minutes against Souths. [We will] keep him out of this one and we'll build up for the opener [against Manly at Eden Park on March 4]. As far as how many minutes he plays against Manly, we don't know."

Saturday's match against the Sunshine Coast is unlikely to be as challenging for the Warriors as their two previous matches against NRL opposition Gold Coast and Souths, but McClennan said his players still had to make statements.

Centre Jerome Ropati returns for his first game for the Warriors since round three of last season after recovering from a knee injury and fellow back Krisnan Inu and forward Ukuma Ta'ai have also been named in the 19-man squad for the match at Toll Stadium.

McClennan said he wouldn't take precautions against further damage to his propping stocks despite Sam and Steve Rapira joining Jacob Lillyman on the sidelines. "Injuries are just part of the game. I'm sure we will get a lot more yet."