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Highly-rated Gold Coast hooker Nathan Friend will link up with the Vodafone Warriors next season on a two-year contract with an option for 2014.

The Toowoomba-born Friend, who was close to playing for Queensland in last year’s State of Origin, has amassed a club record 97 appearances for the Titans since their debut season in the NRL in 2007.

After starting his NRL career with the Brisbane Broncos, he spent four seasons with the Melbourne Storm as back-up to Cameron Smith, playing in the 2006 grand final before joining Gold Coast.

Vodafone Warriors recruitment manager Dean Bell said the signing represented a significant breakthrough for the Vodafone Warriors.

“We’re really pleased to be able to secure a player of the highest quality in such a key position,” he said.

“It’s not often anyone rated as one of the best in a specialist role becomes available on the market. Such players are usually well tied up, so for us to get someone as talented as Nathan is a real achievement.”

Friend made his NRL debut with the Broncos in 2002 before joining the Storm where he added a further 34 appearances before becoming one of the Titans’ foundation players.

“I’ve had a great time with the Titans. They gave me the chance to establish myself at first-grade level and I appreciate what they’ve done for me,” he said.

“While my focus is on doing well for them for the rest of this season, I’m also pleased to have my future sorted out for next year and beyond. It’s an important contract not just for me but also my family.”

Named the Titans’ 2009 player of the year, Friend’s a skilful playmaker out of dummy half – as he has proved against the Vodafone Warriors in the past – and is also renowned as one of the NRL’s leading defenders. In last Friday night’s clash against North Queensland, his first outing of the season, he made a game-high 57. Last season he totalled 1120 tackles (the most of all players), 1067 in 2009, 910 in 2008 and 783 in 2007.

Regarded as one of the game’s most durable players, he made 56 consecutive appearances for the Titans to the end of last season.

Friend is a qualified personal trainer and also a bricklayer by trade.