New season countdown: Leeds centre Konrad Hurrell hunting down Saints and Wigan
Leeds Rhinos are going into the new season with high standards to maintain – and improve on – their star centre Konrad Hurrell reckons.
After recent relegation battles, Rhinos turned the tide last year, climbing from eighth the previous season to fifth on the Betfred Super League ladder and winning the Challenge Cup in thrilling fashion against Salford Red Devils at Wembley.
That was a first major trophy for Hurrell and most of his team-mates and he insists the experience will be put to good use this term as Leeds aim to close the gap on Super League’s top two of St Helens and Wigan Warriors.
“I think we have set some standards,” said the 29-year-old centre, who is out of contract at the end of the season.
“Now we know we can win a trophy with this team, hopefully we have got a bit of confidence.
“We have got new players coming in to create a bit more competition and more maturity in the team and we are all looking forward to it.”
Rhinos, who have added Kiwi Test prop Zane Tetevano and former New Zealand Warriors forward King Vuniyayawa to their squad, certainly seem to be in better shape now than when Hurrell joined the club from Gold Coast Titans two years ago.
He accepts Saints and Wigan remain the ones to catch, but feels coach Richard Agar’s side is beginning to close the gap.
“Those two teams have been together for a while,” Hurrell said.
“They are the benchmark –watching them in the final last year I was like ‘we need to be at that level to beat them and to win Super League’.
“We have been doing well in pre-season and, hopefully, we bring that energy and fitness into games.”
Rhinos play Wakefield Trinity at Emerald Headingley in round one before another derby, against Castleford Tigers at St Helens, on Good Friday.
They have been poor starters in recent seasons, winning only one of their past five opening fixtures, but Leeds led the table briefly early last year and Hurrell insists their aim is to recapture the sort of form they showed before the coronavirus shutdown 12 months ago.
He said: “We have to start with the same energy we did last year – I know we lost the first game, but then we won five in a row.
“If we bring that same energy this year, I reckon we will have no problems.”
But the strong-running Tongan also acknowledges the competition has become stronger, with most teams having added quality and strength to their squad in the off- and pre-season.
“There will be no easy games this year,” he warned. “Every other team has got their squad all stacked up so it will be a tough year, I reckon.
“But if we just focus on ourselves and how we are building our game, individually and as a team, we will be fine.”
Leeds weren’t among the favourites to win any silverware last year, so collecting the Challenge Cup – for the first time since 2015 – was a bonus on top of their league improvement, though they fell at the first hurdle in the play-offs.
Losing to Catalans Dragons wasn’t how Rhinos wanted to end an otherwise encouraging year and, according to Hurrell, it left them with unfinished business to attend to in 2021.
“It was our main goal, to win Super League,” he admitted.
“At the start we wanted to win all three of them [league, cup and Grand Final] and, obviously, we only won one and came up short in the play-offs.
“There’s no excuses about lockdown and stuff like that, but it kind of stopped our momentum going forward. We are hoping this year we will go all the way.
“Seeing all the boys putting in a lot of effort in this pre-season, I feel like we will go a long way.
“It just depends on us, taking what we are doing in training into game day.”
Hurrell is among a host of Super League – and even lower-division – players with extra motivation this year.
He starred for Tonga during their 2013 World Cup campaign and was a member of their semi-final side four years ago.
“I will always put my hand up to play for Tonga, but if I don’t play good for Leeds I probably won’t get picked,” he said of his prospects of taking part in this autumn’s tournament.
“I will just focus on Leeds and try and kill it for them and whatever else happens will come at the end of the year.”