NRL: Why Warriors coach chose Te Maire Martin ahead of Chanel Harris-Tavita as injured Luke Metcalf's replacement

NZ Warriors coach Andrew Webster raised plenty of eyebrows with his decision to select Te Maire Martin as injured Luke Metcalf's replacement in the No. 6 jersey for Saturday's clash with South Sydney Rabbitohs.

The in-form Metcalf limped from Go Media Stadium in ominous fashion just nine minutes into the Warriors win over Newcastle Knights, collected in a heavy tackle by Tyson Frizell.

It was later revealed the Australian had required surgery for a broken tibia that will keep him on the sidelines for an "extended period", an absence that will likely range between three-to-five months.

Fortunately for the Warriors, the halves are an area of considerable depth - as proven by Chanel Harris-Tavita's highly impressive effort off the bench as Metcalf's substitute.

Moments after he took the field he was ranging in support to finish a Wayde Egan break with a try, before turning provider for Marcelo Montoya to cap his best display yet since returning from his gap year.

All of the above led to assumptions Harris-Tavita would partner Shaun Johnson this weekend. But instead, Te Maire Martin has been tasked with that duty in what will be his maiden first-grade appearance of the year, with Harris-Tavita remaining on the extended bench.

After Wednesday's training session at Mt Smart, Webster explained the rationale behind his decision, which essentially boiled down to their respective skillsets.

Te Maire Martin in action in NSW Cup.
Te Maire Martin in action in NSW Cup. Photo credit: Photosport

"I just thought Te Maire last year competed unbelievably for us," Webster said.  

"I thought in the first six games last year we were rapt and then he got a freak incident where he broke his leg. Then I think he's been working really hard in reserve grade and he's had a great attitude.

"I thought Chanel did a great job in that utility role where he could play anywhere for you.  

"We've got to make sure we don't lose that this week."

Martin has impressed in his three appearances for the Warriors' NSW Cup side, last weekend running riot to the tune of three line break assists, two try assists, 26 runs for 144 running metres and 24 tackles without a miss.

He began the 2023 season as the Warriors' preferred five-eighth, helping them to three wins in his first four games as a starter, before - in an eerie coincidence - breaking his leg against the Knights.

Complication with his recovery saw him sidelined longer than initially expected, eventually returning for the final-round clash with the Dolphins.

Saturday will mark his first start since the Warriors' preliminary final defeat to Brisbane Broncos in September.

A huge part of Harris-Tavita's value lies in his versatility, making him perfectly suited to a bench role.  

He's been named in the extended bench, rather than the gameday squad of 17, against the Rabbitohs.

Chanel Harris-Tavita scores a try against the Knights.
Chanel Harris-Tavita scores a try against the Knights. Photo credit: Photosport

But Webster says that is liable to change come kickoff, as it did last weekend the Knights when Harris-Tavita was switched from the reserves into the interchange.

"I think everyone can see how well [Harris-Tavita] played [against the Knights]," said Webster.

"I think it's about balance and making sure we have the best 17. Like I said, Te Maire has been going great and Chanel knows his role in the team, and that's where we're at."

Webster said he was "gutted" for Metcalf, who faces another lengthy recovery just months after working his way back from a hamstring injury that curtailed his 2023 campaign.

"He's worked so hard, got his body right and then a freak accident," he commiserated. "Those things happen.  

"I think the positive is that it's not another soft tissue and something he's worked so hard at.  

"Gutted for him. We're thinking of him. Season's not over for him, which is good. Hopefully we get to see him back this year, killing it like he was.

"But it's hard because you feel for someone, then you've just got to move on. Footy's a crap game like that but it's part of the business."

On a more positive injury note, Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad will join Martin in making his first Warriors appearance of the year on Saturday.

The Warriors have been playing it understandably safe with the fullback, who was one of the competition's best last season.

With his dicey hamstring back to full health, Webster says Nicoll-Klokstad's "unbelievable" presence at training has spoken volumes about his readiness to return against the Rabbitohs.

"What he brings to the group around that energy is great," he said.  

"Like I said, we're trying to get our best team on the field and he's a part of that.  

"He's one of our leaders. He is our energy guy. So, when he brings that in, everyone's got a smile on their face and it lifts everyone in training.

"I thought the intensity today was excellent because of having him back."

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