Friend backs young Roosters to shine

Young Roosters Jayden Nikorima and Jackson Hastings aren’t being thrown to the wolves in the wake of Mitchell Pearce’s Australia Day dramas, despite being one of the least experienced halves pairings in NRL history, captain Jake Friend says.

The pair will start Friday’s World Club Series clash with St Helens less than a month after being thrown together as a result of Pearce’s drunken antics, which have left his career in limbo.

With James Maloney joining Cronulla prior to Pearce’s indiscretions, the Roosters have suddenly found themselves fielding a halves pairing with just 19 first-grade games experience.

Pearce, who is understood to be at a rehabilitation camp in Thailand after admitting to an alcohol problem last month, will have his rugby league future decided upon his return.

Until then, the fate of the Roosters will be in the hands of the competition’s most inexperienced playmakers – a prospect which excites, rather then concerns, Friend.

“They’re both very talented and have some strike. It’s going to be good to watch and see how they go,” Friend told AAP.

“Jacko can hopefully steer the boys around the park and Jayden’s got a bit of strike at the back. It’s exciting times to watch them.”

Friend said Hastings, who at just 20 is stepping into Pearce’s No.7 jersey and assuming the responsibility of dominant playmaker, had grown into the role quickly and had no trouble bossing teammates around on the training paddock while rookie Nikorima looms as the “surprise packet”.

“Jacko has really stepped up. He knows it’s a big position but he’s taking it in his stride,” Friend explained.

“He’s a confident kid, which is why it hasn’t bothered him at all. He’s happy to tell whoever to get wherever.

“The games he played last year are going to really help him this season.

“It’s another exciting thing for the team, to see how he goes and for myself to try and build a combination with him.”

Nikorima, yet to make his NRL debut and an off-season recruit from Brisbane, is more renowned for his speed and unpredictable play – in the mould of Broncos’ No.6 Anthony Milford.

“He plays off the cuff, plays what he sees and he’s got plenty of speed,” Friend said.

“I’m looking forward to seeing what he can bring. He’s a bit of a surprise packet I guess.

“We all know how good he is from the way he’s been training, hopefully he can bring that to a game.

“He’s going to be important for us this year so hopefully myself, Jackson, Jayden and (fullback Blake Ferguson) in those four roles can get some stuff going this weekend to get ourselves ready for the season back in Australia.”

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