Former Brisbane Bronco rookie Nathan Friend will make his Storm debut this Sunday when Melbourne takes on the Bulldogs at Olympic Park (3pm).
Friend is set to fill the role of enforcer after resident hardman Danny Williams today accepted an early plea for a grade one striking charge arising from last week�s win over Penrith.
22-year-old Friend has been in sparkling form with feeder club Brisbane Norths over the past month after overcoming a severe ankle injury earlier in the season.
�I had a pretty disrupted pre-season but I�ve played five weeks now and Craig (Bellamy, Storm coach) is happy with the progress I�ve made,� Friend said.
Friend has waited a long time to make his first grade debut for the Storm just as he did during his time with Brisbane.
The nuggetty forward utility trained all year with the Broncos squad in 2002 yet had to wait until several of Brisbane�s Origin stars were away on Origin duty before he got his chance at the big time.
He played a significant role in the �baby Broncos� inspired win over Wests in round 12 last year, amassing 34 tackles in a standout defensive effort.
He had expected to add to his one first grade game upon arriving in Melbourne at the end of last year but an ankle operation in mid March severely hampered his progress.
�I played the Sevens tournament with the Storm and did all the build-up work over the off-season and was looking forward to pulling on a Melbourne jumper,� Friend added.
�Then when the injury occurred I had to wait around for about six weeks and it didn�t come right so I had an operation and it�s been a while now so I�m itching to get out there.
�Last year at Brisbane I trained full-time with the boys and was always wanting to play alongside them each week.
�But I�m more than willing to wait and hopefully my wait is over now.�
At 173cm tall and 80kg Friend is not your typical back-rower but the former Toowoomba Clydesdale plays well above his weight when not assuming the role of hooker.
�I usually play hooker but Cameron Smith is doing a great job in that role for the Storm this year,� Friend explained. �I dare say my role would be like a Danny Williams I suppose in the back-row or at lock.�
Storm prop Robbie Kearns will miss this week�s match against the Bulldogs after returning to the NSW Blues camp yesterday.
Young firebrand Mitchell Sargent comes back into the side after serving one week�s suspension for a dangerous throw.
MELBOURNE STORM TEAM TO PLAY THE BULLDOGS, THIS SUNDAY AT OLYMPIC PARK, 3.00PM
1. Billy Slater 2. Semi Tadulala 3. Steven Bell 4. Matt Geyer 5. Marcus Bai 6. Scott Hill 7. Matt Orford 8. Kirk Reynoldson 9. Cameron Smith 10. Mitchell Sargent 11. Peter Robinson 12. Stephen Kearney (c) 13. Dallas Johnson BENCH: 14. Nathan Friend 15. David Kidwell 16. Dustin Cooper 17. G. Turner
IN: Mitchell Sargent, Nathan Friend OUT: Danny Williams (susp.), Robbie Kearns (NSW Origin)