The Warriors have ensured they will get the best years of Konrad Hurrell, securing his signature on a new deal until the end of 2015.
The club has pre-empted any Australian advances by tying up Hurrell, who was off contract at the end of next season. While leaving Auckland may have been unlikely, the club's move forestalls the growing interest in the bustling centre with every new starring performance.
His growing importance was obvious on Friday night, when he was unavailable due to a foot injury for the Broncos clash. It was a gutsy, strong effort from the Warriors but they missed Hurrell's penetration on attack. He has possibly already wrestled the title of 'hardest player to tackle' away from Manu Vatuvei; if it had been Hurrell who received the ball 20m out after the buzzer, maybe the result would have been different (though it was a staggering tackle on Vatuvei by Josh Hoffman).
It completes an amazing transformation for Hurrell. Warriors recruitment manager Dean Bell told the Herald on Sunday earlier this year that he was initially unsure of his potential as he watched him in a 1st XV match in 2010.
"With Konrad, it was more of a hunch that he could be a league player," said Bell.
"On first look he seemed quite one-dimensional - just bashing in and laying it back. Our first impressions were not that great."
Hurrell, halfway through only his second season in league, has been a revelation, with 12 tries in 12 appearances including 11 in his last seven games. He had previously had a dazzling introduction to the 13-man game from schoolboy rugby union in 2011 when he helped the Junior Warriors to a second straight NYC premiership, scoring 22 tries in 21 games including a grand final brace.
What has been most impressive has been the swift manner of his adjustment to first grade league. He has proved an attacking threat from the first outing against Manly.
As well as raw power, at times the 101kg Hurrell has shown real pace and, after struggling at the outset, his fitness has improved considerably while his defence remains the major "work-on."
He is surely a contender for the NRL rookie of the year, though to win that award you usually need to be a) Australian and b) play for a prominent Sydney club or the Broncos (recent winners have included Daly Cherry-Evans, Chris Sandow, Tim Smith, Jamal Idris, Matt Gillett and Karmichael Hunt). Still, it is hard to think of a Warrior that has had such a strong debut season - even Shaun Johnson had a more delayed, circumspect introduction to the top side - and maybe you have to go back to Stacey Jones in 1995 to find a comparable debut year.
Hurrell was disappointed to miss Friday's match but delighted about the long-term deal: "I'm really happy I'm going to be with the Warriors for so long. I love playing rugby league and now I just want to play the best footy I can and hopefully I'll be able to stay here even longer."
Bell feels the success of Hurrell and Omar Slaimankhel is another signal to young rugby players about the opportunities available in league.
"As a club we've shown rugby union players that there's so much they can achieve by coming to the Warriors," he said. "We've had success in identifying Konrad and Omar at school level and have seen them take to rugby league so well. We've got others like them on our books who are developing well and we know there are more out there who could also make it."
With 12 tries, Hurrell is third on the NRL's try-scoring chart after 18 rounds and he's in the top 10 for most line breaks with 11 (along with Johnson) and also for most tackle breaks (62). Among Warriors players he ranks second for most average metres a game with 123,narrowly behind Ben Matulino (125) and ahead of third-placed Vatuvei (111).
Hurrell, who is eligible for Tonga, also reiterated his desire to represent New Zealand: "My dream used to be about trying to play for the All Blacks but not now. All I want to do is to play for the Kiwis if I get the opportunity," he said.
Hurrell's signing follows Friday's confirmation that prop Jacob Lillyman will be at Mt Smart until the end of the 2014 season.By Michael Burgess Email Michael