NRL: NZ Warriors forward Marata Niukore expected back from broken foot for round four

NZ Warriors coach Andrew Webster hopes to have bruising forward Marata Niukore back on the park for round four of the NRL season.

The Auckland-based side will kick off their 2024 campaign at home against Cronulla Sharks on Friday, but Niukore is not part of the playing squad, after breaking a bone in his foot in their final pre-season hitout against the Dolphins.

He was one of the stars of that winning performance, scoring a superb try, and Webster remains upbeat, despite his forced absence, projecting he and fullback Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad will both return a month into the season.

Marata Niukore in action for the Warriors.
Marata Niukore in action for the Warriors. Photo credit: Photosport

"Could be earlier, could be later," he estimated. "I've been made a liar before, but that's the plan.

"I'm gutted for him. This whole pre-season, he's worked hard and we've changed things up a little, so he's been in the middle and on the edge, and we're pretty excited to see how that works.

"I think we saw it work really well against Redcliffe, where - unfortunately - he got the foot injury, but next man up and we've got to move on fast. We'll get him back and he'll be better for it."

Without Niukore, 27, Webster has still been able to name a strong pack against the Sharks, with youngster Tom Ale filling the void on the bench.

"He's a big part of this team," said captain Tohu Harris of Niukore. "He's a character and we're going to miss him, but we've got guys who are ready, and excited to take that opportunity and play well for us.

"I haven't really compared squads, but the depth we have certainly is exciting. We're pretty confident in everyone's ability to do their jobs, so I can't wait for those guys to put in."

Warriors head of performance Balin Cupples has put an "indefinite" timeline on Niukore's recovery, but expects him to ditch his protective 'moon boot' this week, while Nicoll-Klokstad has begun warming up with the team, as he recovers from a hamstring strain.

Meanwhile, across the park, Webster has had to make difficult decisions around his initial selections, with established first-grade performers Chanel Harris-Tavita, Te Maire Martin and Jazz Tevaga named in the reserve tam this week.

Luke Metcalfe has edged Harris-Tavita and Martin in the race for the No.6 jersey, outside veteran half Shaun Johnson, while Ale is preferred ahead of Tevaga - 2018 Dally M Interchange Player of the Year.

"It's a long season," admits Webster. "Round one is not the Olympics, it doesn't come around every four years, there's another 27 games and everyone will get another opportunity.

"Everyone wants to play round one, I can understand their disappointment, but they've got a great attitude."

Centre Adam Pompey has been named on the extended first-grade bench, but not the reserve line-up, and is another particularly unlucky to miss selection, with former Dally M Medal winner Roger Tuivasa-Sheck returning from rugby to the midfield.

Adam Pompey scores a try for the Warriors.
Adam Pompey scores a try for the Warriors. Photo credit: Photosport

"Adam Pompey played every minute, bar 10 minutes, last year and was one of the form centres," stated Webster. "He's had a good pre-season, but it's touch and go, and people, for this particular week, have their noses in front.

"The feedback to Adam Pompey is, 'Mate, you're doing a good job, stay at it, we love you... you're going to be a big part of this team at some stage, but for now, this is the way we're going'."

NZ Warriors: 1-Taine Tuaupiki, 2-Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, 3-Rocco Berry, 4-Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, 5-Marcelo Montoya, 6-Luke Metcalf, 7-Shaun Johnson, 8-Addin Fonua-Blake, 9-Wayde Egan, 10-Mitchell Barnett, 11-Jackson Ford, 12-Kurt Capewell, 13-Tohu Harris (c)

Interchange (from): 14-Freddy Lussick, 15-Tom Ale, 16-Bunty Afoa, 17-Dylan Walker, 18-Adam Pompey, 20-Jazz Tevaga, 21-Te Maire Martin, 22-Ali Leiataua, 23-Jacob Laban

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