It was lauded as one of the most courageous performances seen in a Warriors jumper.
However, despite Nathan Friend playing with a broken jaw for 75 minutes in the 30-20 victory over the Broncos in round nine, the Warriors season has taken a step back in his absence.
The former Titans hooker has been consigned to the sidelines for eight weeks, though thanks to the Warriors' match schedule, which has featured two byes, the nuggety hooker has only missed five matches.
The Warriors have only won two in his absence, while capitulating to both the Tigers (22-24) and Sharks (19-20) in two imminently winnable encounters.
Friend, back in the No9 jersey against the Cowboys at Mt Smart Stadium tomorrow, knows the Warriors must do better in their run to the end of the season. He also knows how crucial those tight losses may eventually be.
"Those five games, you know, have been very frustrating," Friend said. "Especially when we were in the lead for a couple of those and, as you know, we let them slip. Four points on the ladder now would have been very handy.
"If you deserve your spot in the eight at the end of the season, you probably need to build from now. You want to be playing decent footy heading towards that. We won't get ahead of ourselves.
"If we do lose a couple more, we don't deserve to be there. Hopefully we can keep on improving as we have, and move on in."
Friend describes himself as "over-prepared" for his return match to the Warriors. The former Toowoomba brickie has been a regular feature in contact training at Mt Smart in recent weeks, and said his jaw had been already given a test by his team-mates.
"My first session, I went out there and Stevie Rapira lifted his arm up and hit it right in the spot," the veteran, 31, said.
"I shook the head a bit, but I pulled up great from there. I'm just happy to be out there training, full on. It's no good sitting on the sideline. I'd hate to be a coach."
The Warriors have used Lewis Brown, Alehana Mara and Elijah Taylor out of dummy half in his absence, with mixed results. Friend, however, said he'll be back as the Warriors 80-minute hooker from this weekend.
"I think I've been around long enough to know where to be on the field, and to get through 80 minutes which I've played for the last six years," he said.
"I mightn't be at my peak for 80 minutes, but I'll certainly be out there for 80."
The news that Rabbitohs star Greg Inglis will take over Billy Slater's fullback duties for Queensland next week means that Cowboys No1 Matthew Bowen has been released to play the Warriors tomorrow. While Bowen's inclusion is a definite boost for the visitors, the Cowboys will still be missing four key players through State of Origin commitments this weekend.
The absence of Jonathan Thurston, Brent Tate, James Tamou and Matthew Scott undoubtedly makes the home side's job easier, but Friend said the Warriors were not taking anything for granted. They did not view the under-strength Cowboys as a "pushover" at all.
"We've got to take care of our own backyard," Friend said.
WARRIORS: Kevin Locke, Bill Tupou, Ben Henry, Konrad Hurrell, Glen Fisiiahi, James Maloney, Shaun Johnson; Russell Packer, Nathan Friend, Ben Matulino, Lewis Brown, Simon Mannering, Elijah Taylor. Interchange (from): Jacob Lillyman, Micheal Luck, Sione Lousi, Feleti Mateo, Steve Rapira.
COWBOYS: Matthew Bowen, Ashley Graham, Antonio Winterstein, Kane Linnett, Kalifa Faifai Loa, Michael Morgan, Ray Thompson; Ashton Sims, Aaron Payne, Ricky Thorby, Gavin Cooper, Glenn Hall, Dallas Johnson. Interchange (from): Joel Riethmuller, Scott Bolton, Jason Taumalolo, Cory Paterson, Mosese Pangai.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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