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After getting through training this week without issue, Tohu Harris is on track to return to the field and provide the Warriors with a huge boost for their Magic Round clash with the Panthers.

With his side facing the prospect of a third-straight loss, Harris looks set to return from his second layoff with a reoccurring knee injury ahead of schedule, with coach Andrew Webster confirming he now just needs to get through Friday’s captain’s run in order to play. 

“Trained well [Wednesday], confident, he has just got to get through captain’s run,” Webster said of his captain.

“He’s definitely on the plane, so he’s travelling and we will know after captain’s run.

He is completely confident he wants to play. The physios and doctors are saying he’s good to go if he ticks these boxes this week, so that gives me confidence.

Andrew Webster

“You definitely don’t want to rush Tohu, but there is certainly no pressure from any of us.”

While his defensive presence will be a welcome addition, it was in attack that Harris was missed most last week in a 14-0 loss to the Roosters. 

Averaging 28 touches per game in matches when he hasn’t been forced off through injury, his ball-playing and ability to link with the side’s other forwards, in particular Addin Fonua-Blake, has been a key feature of the Warriors’ gameplan in 2023.

AFB under the sticks

After stepping into the lock role last week, Fonua-Blake, who has been the Warriors’ top forward for metres gained in each of the past three weeks, said he will be relieved to hand it back to his skipper for Saturday's match.

“It sort of opened my eyes a bit as to how much he does for the team. I have a newfound appreciation for what he does for me and the boys,” Fonua-Blake said.

“You can tell when he’s not playing. He is that link for the halves in the middle of the field and does that scrappy work.”

The Panthers game is a key one for the club, who will likely drop out of the eight with defeat and risk losing much of the momentum generated through their 5-2 start to the season, while for coach Andrew Webster it marks his first game against former mentor Ivan Cleary.

Webster worked with Cleary at the Wests Tigers in 2017-18 before following him to Penrith and helping the side win back-to-back Premierships over the past two years.

But the first-year head coach brushed off any suggestion that the encounter at Suncorp Stadium would have added meaning for him personally.

“At the end of the day Ivan and I aren’t going to tackle each other. The players are going to do all the battling," Webster said. 

“I don’t think anyone cares about me this week. The boys just want to win. My honest motivation is trying to get that for everyone.

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“I spoke to Ivan last week, didn’t talk about this game, just how he’s going, how his family is.

“I am just grateful for all the opportunities Ivan has given me, all the mentoring, all the opportunities to be a good coach.”

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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