NRL: Hurrell vying with idol for centres spot

Konrad Hurrell duringlast year's Toyota Cup Grand Final. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Konrad Hurrell duringlast year's Toyota Cup Grand Final. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Konrad Hurrell's idol is Manu Vatuvei. Two years ago he never would have thought he would be getting tips from The Beast let alone competing for a spot in the Warriors' first-grade side.

Yet, the 20-year-old Tongan-born wing/centre is making waves in the rugby league scene after switching from rugby union last season.

Hurrell scored a try in his Junior Warriors debut and went on to score 22 tries in 21 games. He was named in the 2011 NYC Team of the Year before helping the Junior Warriors lift the Toyota Cup for the second consecutive year.

After swooping on Hurrell and promoting the 100kg, 183cm "kid" into the first-grade squad, along with several of his NYC teammates, Warriors' coach Brian McClennan has high hopes for the player oozing with raw talent.

He will get another chance at centre tomorrow night against Souths at Coffs Harbour and McClennan also intends giving Vatuvei time in the position as the coach looks to find solutions at centre.

"Konrad is a terrific kid, with lots of potential. As a club, we want to nurture him slowly while he gets some confidence," McClennan said.

"It's got to be remembered that it's only his second year in the game of rugby league. So far, we couldn't have asked more of him. He trains hard, and listens to his peers and coaches well."

Hurrell arrived in New Zealand from Nuku'alofa two years ago on a rugby union scholarship at Auckland Grammar, where he impressed at centre and second five-eighths for the Grammar first XV.

On finishing school, he faced a hard decision - whether to stick with rugby or switch to league.

"It was a tough call, I had a good chat with my parents in Tonga, and they said it was up to me - and they would support whatever I did," Hurrell said. "But I'm loving it. I think I'm more suited to league than union."

Junior Kiwis' selector Richie Barnett thought so, too, and tried desperately to get Hurrell into the black jersey for the Junior Kiwis' one-off international against Australia last October. However, Hurrell missed selection due to his lack of New Zealand residency.

Training with McClennan's first-grade side is a whole new world for the unassuming Hurrell.

"It's such a different environment, it's really hard physically. I'm probably the hardest and fittest I've ever been at the moment.

"Jerome [Ropati] and Manu have been really good giving me advice, and guys like Elijah [Taylor] and Shaun [Johnson] who've come through the junior programme keep telling me, 'don't be shy, talk more and have confidence in myself', because it's a really supportive environment."

It is also a competitive one, however, and Hurrell is up against a host of others vying for the centres spot.

The Warriors are building good depth in most positions but look a little thin at centre. Ropati is the club's only established centre, but he's recovering from knee surgery, and they are without Shaun Berrigan and Joel Moon, who departed last year.

"It will be a good experience for him [Hurrell] because of the way I suspect Souths will play," McClennan said. "They'll put a lot of stress on the outside edge defensively and that will test him."

It will also be a good test for Vatuvei.

The 25-year-old giant is widely acknowledged as one of the game's best wingers but played centre as a junior, and McClennan wants to give him a chance at centre along with Lewis Brown, Ben Henry and Carlos Tuimavave.

Krisnan Inu is another option and is expected return to the squad to play Queensland Cup side Sunshine Coast at Whangarei on February 18, when Ropati could also make his return.

For Hurrell, it's a matter of being ready and taking his chances.

"I know I definitely need to learn a lot more, but hopefully I'll get a run this season. I reckon I'm 95 per cent ready for first-grade."

- APNZ

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