NRL 2020: NZ Warriors' Jackson Frei ruled out for season, as front-row crisis worsens

The NZ Warriors' front-row stocks have gone from bad to worse, with news that Jackson Frei will play no part in their 2020 NRL campaign.

The Warriors rookie is the latest diagnosed with torn knee ligaments, after fellow prop Bunty Afoa was ruled out with the same issue last week.

Frei suffered the injury during the Warriors' first pre-season outing of the year in Palmerston North on Saturday - an 18-16 loss to the Melbourne Storm.

With Sam Lisone's departure for the Gold Coast Titans, the Auckland-based franchise is now decidedly thin up front.

Leeson Ah Mau and Agnatius Paasi are the only two specialist props left in the squad. Adam Blair could be used as cover, but he's also needed in the second row.

Coach Stephen Kearney confirmed the club is currently on the hunt for further reinforcements.

"That's the plan," said Kearney. "It's not ideal, but that sometimes happens in our game and it's how we navigate around that, which we're pretty confident of doing."

Second-rowers Josh Curran and Jamayne Taunoa-Brown will back up Ah Mau and Paasi at prop in the Warriors' second trial game against the Wests Tigers in Rotorua on Sunday.

Both played for the NRL's Australian Indigenous side in their loss to the Māori All Stars on Saturday.

Kearney added that their revised approach to the use of their forwards would lessen the impact of their injuries up front.

"We've been looking at that all preseason, spreading the workload of the team with regards to getting the forwards a bit more involved in the game for us from an attack point of view.

"We've been working that way all pre-season."

In more encouraging news, star forward Tohu Harris will make his long-awaited return to the field in Saturday's trial. Harris hasn't played since last June, due to a foot injury.

Also part of the first-choice squad selection are captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Blair, Kodi Nikorima, Blake Green and Ken Maumalo, who will all play their first and only pre-season game.

Included on a 12-man bench are halfback Chanel Harris-Tavita and lock Lachlan Burr - both used in Palmerston North - while centre Peta Hiku returns from off-season surgery. 

Also on the interchange is hooker Karl Lawton, after returning from surgery last weekend.

Kearney added he hoped to give some first-string players extended minutes to get their feet underneath them, before the season officially starts on March 14 against the Knights.

"Ideally, we'll be treating it as a dress rehearsal for round one," Kearney noted.

"Last week, we were making changes every quarter, but this week, we'll try to keep it close to the regular interchange rule... maybe a couple more than the eight, but we'll try keep it as close as possible."

Warriors: 1. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (c), 2. Patrick Herbert, 3. Hayze Perham, 4. David Fusitu’a, 5. Ken Maumalo, 6. Kodi Nikorima, 7. Blake Green, 8. Leeson Ah Mau, 9. Wayde Egan, 10. Agnatius Paasi, 11, Adam Blair, 12. Tohu Harris, 13. Isaiah Papali'i

Interchange: 14. Chanel Harris-Tavita, 15. Jamayne Taunoa-Brown, 16. Adam Tuimavave-Gerrard, 17. Karl Lawton, 18. Paul Turner, 20. Taane Milne, 21. Josh Curran, 24. Peta Hiku, 25. Lachlan Burr, 26. Eliesa Katoa, 27. Edward Kosi, 28. Leivah