Michael Burgess

Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday.

NRL: Konrad goes from a gamble to jackpot

Konrad Hurrell's ability to break tackles gives the Warriors great momentum. Photo / Dean Purcell
Konrad Hurrell's ability to break tackles gives the Warriors great momentum. Photo / Dean Purcell

Konrad Hurrell's transformation at the Warriors is the kind of dramatic turnaround the Labour Party will hope for come September.

He has gone from being inconsistent, and sometimes inexplicable, to almost indispensable.

In a relatively short time, Hurrell has become one of the most valuable players at the Warriors. Instead of worrying about his lapses, especially on defence, fans now fret about his absences. The powerful Hurrell is expected to return today against the Roosters, which gives the team hope against the defending champions.

It's quite a turnaround. It wasn't so long ago Hurrell was considered by many a week-to-week gamble. Pundits argued his inclusion just wasn't worth the risk at times, given his shortcomings on defence and general lack of league awareness. Under former coach Matt Elliott, Hurrell had extended stints in the New South Wales Cup to learn the game and work on his fitness. The evidence is mounting, however, that the team just aren't the same without him. Look at some of their performances this year sans Hurrell.

In round one, they were toothless against Parramatta, offering little in attack in an awful 36-16 loss. The next week, with Hurrell still overlooked, the team put in another listless display, losing 31-12 to the Dragons at Eden Park.

He returned for impressive wins over the Cowboys and Tigers when he was used as an interchange forward but was again sorely missed in their round-seven defeat at Kogarah Oval to the Dragons.

After being a key part of their mid-season revival - he scored seven tries in eight matches, including victories over the Panthers and Broncos - Hurrell was ruled out through injury for the last two matches. Cue a patchy, somewhat fortunate win over the Sharks and a disappointing defeat to the Knights last Sunday.

"You could probably say that, yes," Warriors coach Andrew McFadden said when asked if Hurrell was becoming indispensable. "We have always known Konrad's unique attributes as an athlete but his improvement in his game this year has been huge. It's not just his actual personal contribution to a game. It's actually the impact he's having on his team-mates as well which has been the most significant."

His contribution can be measured in different ways. His try-scoring feats - and ability to break tackles - gives the team great momentum and go-forward, similar to Manu Vatuvei when the Beast is at his best. Hurrell also wears down opposition defensive lines with his power, blunting their effectiveness over the course of a match.

His passing has improved considerably, with his ability to set up his outsides superior to Dane Nielsen and Ngani Laumape. And Hurrell's presence can be enough to unnerve opponents and create space for players around him as they devote numbers to cover the Tongan.

Hurrell's progress over the past three months might be one of the reasons why the club appear to have gone cold on luring Steve Matai across the Tasman, convinced they already have a world-class centre at Mt Smart.

His impact is even more meritorious, considering he was relegated to reserve grade early in the McFadden reign and told to shape up or ship out.

"Konrad could have gone one of two ways when I dropped him," McFadden said. "He could have sulked about it for ages and let it really impact his season or he could do what he did, which was knuckle down and work hard. It was a great example to the rest of the group, and part of the reason the team's performances turned around was his response to that."

"From when I played with him before to now, he is like a completely different player - he is pretty good now," utility Thomas Leuluai said. "He's enjoying his football and has even become one of our better defenders in the back end of the season. He's doing things off the ball and the boys respect him for that."

- Herald on Sunday

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf01 at 29 Nov 2014 15:33:11 Processing Time: 324ms