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Anyone needing proof that rugby league can forge lifelong friendships need look no further than the NRL's New Zealand Warriors.

Head coach Nathan Brown and his assistant Craig Hodges have been best mates since they played for the Lower Clarence Magpies under-10s 40 years ago.

By that time Brown was a team veteran, having started his career before he was five years old.

"So me and 'Hodge' started playing together probably when we were about eight or nine, you just started in the under-10s because there was no under-sixes or sevens," he said.

"We sat next to each other in class as well … we knocked around at school and after school and played together, so we know each other very well."

Craig Hodges said his current boss was calling the shots on the field from an early age.

"He was always far more talented then me, I didn't have a lot of ability," he said.

Brown said the appointment of his best friend as an assistant coach was made on merit.

"He's coached his own side in the Q Cup, he's coached his own side in the Broncos 20s, he's worked with Neil Henry and Wayne Bennett, so he's got a load of experience, he said.

"And apart from his coaching ability, away from the footy bit he's quite humorous as well, which gives everybody a laugh."

Indeed Hodges has his own theory about what happened to his mate's famous flowing blond locks.

"He got into coaching and had daughters and lost his hair quickly," he said.

"And I got into coaching and had daughters and lost mine reasonably quickly too."

The New Zealand team's connection to the New South Wales Northern Rivers region also includes chief executive Cameron George, who grew up playing rugby league in Casino.

He won widespread praise for guiding the club through a gruelling 2020 season that saw the players prevented from returning home due to COVID restrictions.

"We respect the fact that last year we had to do things out of the ordinary and we were uncomfortable in a lot of situations, but we knew our culture would see us through it," Mr George said.

"We had good people and this year we've got some great people involved.

"It's fantastic to work at a club where you've got so many people from the home region working there.

The Warriors play the Gold Coast Titans in an NRL pre-season match in Lismore on Saturday: it's unlikely they will get lost on their way to the ground.

Acknowledgement of Country

The New Zealand Warriors honour the mana of the Indigenous peoples of Aotearoa, Australia and the Pacific. We acknowledge the traditional kaitiaki of the lands, elders past and present, their stories, their traditions, their mamae and their mana motuhake.

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