Friend grateful to make 200 club
Since Nathan Friend's Telstra Premiership debut in 2002 the competition has been through a couple of CEOs, added another team and seen the playing style change so much that it's almost gone full circle.
Speaking after his 200th first-grade appearance last night – where he made a modest 23-minute cameo to relieve starting hooker Thomas Leuluai in the 29-16 win over the Eels – Friend spoke about the achievement and adapting with the times.
"Geez, you could probably write a book on how much the game has changed since I started," 34-year-old Friend said.
"The game is a lot quicker, the play-the-ball is quick and the line speed is as well.
"Back in the day we didn't have that line speed and forwards would make 100 metres easy, these days we have sets where you only go 30 metres.
"We have been through periods of wrestle – when I started there was no wrestle and now it's kind of back to where it was – we have kind of done a full circle.
"The athletes are a lot bigger and my technique has probably changed a lot over the years, every tackle I did at first was around the ankles, but now if you go low you just get bumped off.
"I can't shoot up anymore or I just get bumped off, but it depends who you are playing, you have to do your homework before the game and know what you can do."
During the week Warriors coach Andrew McFadden, who played alongside Friend at the Storm in 2003-04, praised his veteran dummy-half's professional approach and sheer courage on the field.
At just 171cm and 84kg, Friend plays one of the most demanding positions in the game, and regularly across his career has produced tackle counts of 50 or more in the middle of the park.
The hooking role is one which has changed dramatically since 2002, with modern-day No.9s expected to get through that defensive work while also punishing sides for poor retreating defence following fast play-the-balls.
"He has really got the best out of himself… he is a terrific person to have at the club," McFadden said of the Wests Juniors graduate.
"He is only 83-84kg now, so to do that in the middle and make 51 tackles against guys who are getting bigger and bigger these days... his courage is unquestioned, he is fearless and that's what makes him what he is and why he has got to 200.
"He is a real professional, he works so hard on his game. For him to achieve 200 is a credit to the way he goes about his business.”
The man himself insisted there was no secret to what keeps him going after all this time, but said the stuff that really matters is what you do when you aren't on the field.
"We play in a contact sport so there is no secret to staying injury free," Friend said.
"All you can do is take care of your conditioning and rehab. I eat clean during the week, take care of my sleep.
"My wife Kelly takes care of most of my food, I have shakes before and after training, everything is calculated. After the game I will have a feed, a shake before bed, a stretch and then in the morning go for a walk with the kids or something.
"I guess this is an achievement, I will look back upon it one day and say I was in the 200 club.
"When I first started this would have been the furthest thing from my mind. To be here today I am very grateful."
Video courtesy of warriors.kiwi