NRL: Hurrell enigma remains wrapped in a riddle

By Michael Brown

Konrad Hurrell oseals a try with a kiss but remains a puzzle. Photo / Getty Images
Konrad Hurrell oseals a try with a kiss but remains a puzzle. Photo / Getty Images

The curious case of Konrad Hurrell means the man the Warriors need most is the same player who cannot be trusted to start.

The 22-year-old made a telling impact off the bench in the important 20-16 NRL win against the Cowboys in Townsville on Saturday night, highlighted by a try and several bullocking runs.

What made it even more significant was the fact he did it mostly playing in the back-row. He has played his entire NRL career at centre.

He didn't see any action in the first half but broke the line with his first carry and was a handful whenever he ran with the ball (he made 85m from eight runs and also notched one linebreak and two tackle breaks) and was even busy on defence (seven tackles) in limited playing time.

"He played really well," skipper Simon Mannering said. "He probably turned it for us in the second half."

It was the sort of performance that demanded selection for Saturday's match against the Wests Tigers in Wellington but he's still probably not ready for 80 minutes at centre.

Hurrell put on 10kg over the off-season, which incurred the ire of the club and saw him relegated to the reserve grade for the start of the season, and he's still trying to make up lost ground. He has apparently been working hard but it's questionable whether he can put in an effective 80-minute shift at centre and his defensive deficiencies are well known.

The Warriors have historically struggled to fill the centre position and a top-quality player is likely to be at the top of their shopping list for next season. The problem is, there aren't too many around and the best ones are locked into long-term contracts.

Hurrell has the potential to fill that role for some time if he can improve and then maintain his fitness and sort out his defence. But his immediate future might be as an impact player off the bench.

He was able to take advantage against a tiring defence and was used in short bursts. At 1.83m and 102kg, Hurrell is capable of playing in the forwards but coach Matt Elliott is loathe to encourage a long-term positional switch.

"He's a centre," Elliott said. "There are some strategic things that centres can do to help our middles and I think he has a better understanding or appreciation for how hard our forwards have to work in this game, particularly at the moment with the ruck speed as it is.

"He gave us plenty of impetus. We need him in the team but it's just where he fits best."

Jerome Ropati has added some much needed stability to right centre and Dane Nielsen is solid without being spectacular on the left. Neither offer the sort of penetration and try-scoring ability Hurrell does (26 tries in 38 NRL games).

Thomas Leuluai is also close to demanding selection. The five-eighth is nearing a return to full fitness from the groin injury that ruined his World Cup and could be included in the side to face the Wests Tigers on Saturday.

- APNZ

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