Friendly fire for Broncos coach
THE smile has finally returned to Ivan Henjak's face - and his good mate Nathan Friend would love nothing more than to wipe it off the Broncos coach on Saturday night.
But not so long ago, Friend's biggest priority was cheering Henjak up.
He had his work cut out for him.
Friend, 28, had witnessed the Broncos slide down the NRL ladder, and read the inevitable “Ivan the Terrible” newspaper headlines.
However, the last straw was watching TV footage of a forlorn Henjak during Brisbane's record 56-0 loss at Canberra six weeks ago.
“He just had to know that he had people out there feeling for him the poor bugger,” Friend said.
“(So) I sent him a text around that time saying 'keep your chin up, things will turn around'- and they have.”
So much so that a resurgent Broncos will arrive at the Gold Coast Titans' Skilled Park fortress as favourites to win their NRL qualifying final on Saturday night.
Friend is happy that Henjak has helped turn the Broncos around, but it would be safe to say the Titans hooker won't be doing any more favours for the Brisbane mentor in their cut-throat finals clash.
“My sentiments this week are that I wish him all the best - but not too much,” Friend joked. “Ivan is probably the reason I got my start in the NRL (with the Broncos in 2002).
“We won a premiership with the Clydies (Toowoomba Clydesdales) under Ivan and got picked up by Wayne (Bennett) to stay there (Broncos) for a year.
“He kick-started my career. I keep in contact with him.”
Especially during Henjak's darkest period, capped by the capitulation in Canberra.
“He probably felt like he had a ton of bricks on him at that stage,” Friend said.
“For him to break through and get them to the semis (is great).
“Obviously coming in after Wayne (Bennett), it was always going to be a big job for him.
“Everyone was going to sink the boot into him if things turned sour - they were heading that way.
“He has obviously got them back on track; it's a credit to the guy.”
Friend, 28, moved on from the Broncos to Melbourne (2003-06) before emerging as an NRL force at new club the Titans.
But Friend still remembers fondly his time under Henjak, and knows just what to expect on Saturday - but that doesn't make the Titans' task any easier.
Meanwhile, dual international Mat Rogers has been named in the Titans line-up for Saturday night's clash with the Bronocos, but it is far from certain he will play.
Rogers has been named at five-eighth but he is not expected to overcome a hamstring strain.
In other news, centre Brett Delaney and former Brisbane forward Brad Meyers will make a return from injury against the Broncos.
Delaney (hamstring) is in the starting side after missing the last five games while Meyers will be on the bench when he returns from a hand injury that ruled him out of last weekend's mauling by Manly.
Delaney has been one of the club's most consistent performers, playing 63 games for the Titans since the team's debut in 2007.