Friend small in stature, big in heart
HE NEVER got the accolades some of the stars he played alongside did, but those who went into battle with Nathan Friend always knew he would not let them down.
The 35-year-old Toowoomba-born hooker has announced he will call it quits at the end of the 2016 season, dropping the curtain on a 15-year career that he hopes will end with the Gold Coast Titans contesting the finals.
“Thanks to everyone that has had a hand in my career,” Friend posted on Instagram. “I’m forever grateful for the support and guidance I have received.
“It’s now time to give back to my beautiful wife Kellie who has sacrificed so much of her life to support me on my endeavours while producing two wonderful children.”
Friend currently sits on 235 NRL games with nine games of 2016 remaining, plus any finals appearances.
He made his first-grade debut with the infamous “baby Broncos” in 2002 – the only game he played for the club – before his journey took him to the Gold Coast (twice), Melbourne and the Warriors.
He was a member of the Storm side that lost the 2006 grand final to Brisbane
A resolute defender, Friend was a foundation player for the Titans when they entered the NRL in 2007, coming off the bench in the club’s 20-18 loss to St George-Illawarra in its first home game.
No player was more dedicated to fitness than Friend, who would often go above and beyond with his diet and workouts to make sure he was able to top the tackle sheet every week.
“It’s been great to be able to see him come back and finish at the club where he was a foundation player,” Titans coach Neil Henry said.
“He’s not a big man (172cm) in a tough sport and the fact he has played 235 games at NRL level is a tribute to him, his preparation and leadership, and we all know that will continue until the end of the season.”
Like Johnathan Thurston, Friend is highly competitive with a never-say-die attitude.
He scored 14 tries in his career but the one play he will be most remembered for happened late last year when playing for the Warriors against Melbourne.
In one of the most spectacular off-loads in rugby league history, Friend leapt high to field a towering bomb.
While airborne and toppling over a Storm defender, he somehow managed to throw a pass between his legs while upside down to teammate Sam Tomkins, which led to a try to winger Tuimoala Lolahea.