Vodafone Warriors winger Manu Vatuvei (left) and Nathan Friend (centre) will now by NRL All Stars team-mates in Robina next Friday night. Image | www.photosport.co.nz

All Stars call-up fillip for Friend

Two Vodafone Warriors will now feature in the NRL All Stars squad with veteran hooker Nathan Friend today called up to join team-mate Manu Vatuvei for the 2015 clash against the Indigenous All Stars at Cbus Super Stadium in Robina next Friday night (February 13).

The much-decorated 28-year-old Vatuvei was the sole Vodafone Warrior named last month by coach Wayne Bennett to make his third appearance for the NRL All Stars.

Just days after representing the Vodafone Warriors at the Dick Smith NRL Auckland Nines for the first time, Friend was thrilled to learn last night that he would now be playing alongside and against many of the game’s biggest names in the Harvey Norman Rugby League All Stars game.

He comes in for Michael Ennis who has been ruled out with injury. Among his team-mates will be Kiwi internationals Kieran Foran, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Jason Taumalolo, Jesse Bromwich, Jeremy Smith and Antonio Winterstein as well as Vatuvei plus the likes of Mitchell Pearce, James Graham, Beau Scott, Paul, Trent Merrin, Corey Parker and Dave Taylor.

Friend is fast approaching his 34th birthday (February 28) but despite proving an invaluable player throughout his career the courageous hooker has never previously earned an opportunity at a higher level. The closest he had come was when he was in a mix of contenders to replace an injured Cameron Smith for the opening game of the 2010 State of Origin series (Matt Ballin was chosen in the end).

Selection for the All Stars is a real fillip – and a much-deserved one – for a player in the late stages of his career. He again topped the Vodafone Warriors’ tackling statistics last season, making 1084 tackles, an average of 45 a game.

Heading into his fourth season with the Vodafone Warriors Friend is only three appearances away from playing his 200th NRL game.

Friend and Vatuvei – also an All Star in 2010 and 2012 – are due to go into camp with the All Stars on Sunday.