Stricken centre Will Hurrell will always be grateful for leg-up from Doncaster Knights

A FEW months ago, the prospect of former Doncaster Knights centre Will Hurrell needing to retire due to a stroke when still just 30 must have seemed as likely as rugby union being shut down across the world due to a global pandemic.

17 Oct 2015..... Doncaster Knights v Cornish Pirates. Will Hurrell. Picture Scott Merrylees SM1009/88i

However, following a frightening experience playing for Bristol Bears at Leicester Tigers in January, both surreal events have now occurred.

Hurrell – who starred as Doncaster reached the Championship Final in 2016 – announced recently his career had ended prematurely having been told he risked death if he continued playing following the serious head knock.

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He initially felt all right after the whiplash style injury but after coming off at Welford Road disintegrated quickly.

Greene King IPA Championship. Doncaster Knights v Richmond. Clive Griffiths Director of Rugby at the Doncaster Knights. 26th January 2019.

Hurrell was unable to speak or stand-up properly and was hospitalised for a couple of days.

Eventually, a second MRI scan a few weeks later revealed the hard-running three-quarter had actually suffered a stroke, a true rarity in sports injuries.

Thankfully, Hurrell is now on the mend and cracking on with life after rugby.

He looks back fondly on his time with Doncaster and admits if it had not been for the South Yorkshire club he would never have fulfilled his ambition of playing in the Premiership.

Doncaster Knights v Nottingham. Doncaster's Paul Jarvis, pictured. Picture: NDFP-16-02-19-KnightsvNottingham-2

The former London Welsh three-quarter arrived at Castle Park from Coventry in the summer of 2015 and went on to feature heavily in the club’s greatest-ever season.

The no-nonsense Hurrell scored seven tries in 28 games in Clive Griffiths’s unfancied side as they surged to second place, knocked-out fierce rivals Yorkshire Carnegie in the play-offs semi-finals and then dramatically pushed huge favourites Bristol mightily close for a place in the elite.

Hurrell crossed in both legs, Knights actually famously winning the second leg 34-32 at Ashton Gate only to miss out 60-47 on aggregate.

It was no surprise Bristol subsequently signed the former England Under-20s centre to go with them into the Premiership.

Asked about how important the stint at Doncaster was for his career, Hurrell – who made the Championship Team of the Season in 2015-16 – replied: “It was everything; that year basically got me in the Premiership. All the games I played in the Prem’ are down to that season at Donny. I said to Griff that I thought I’d be a good centre but he wasn’t sure and he wanted to play me on the wing.

“But Bevon Armitage got injured early on and he said ‘Right, you get to play in the centre now….!’ It was brilliant. I loved it. I was a crashball and got loads of ball. I was able to fly in and it worked really well for us.

“I don’t think I’d have got into the Premiership as a winger, to be fair, so playing 12 that season with Donny was great. I still keep in touch with a few of the guys.”

Hurrell “lost his way” as a youngster at Leicester Academy, dropping down a level with London Welsh and then studying for a maths degree at Aston University.

But he thought he might go all the way back with Doncaster as they staged that thrilling comeback at big-spending Bristol. Hurrell recalled: “We were 15 points down going into the second leg down there but in the second half we started pumping out the tries. I did think ‘We’re going to do this!’

“I scored in the first half but it was in the second when Jarv (Paul Jarvis) scored, then Tyson Lewis straight after and then Ollie Stedman that I thought we’re in with a real shot here.

“But fair play to Bristol. They hung on and probably deserved to win; they’d been top for a long time. All those four games, though – the semis and the final – were amazing. Yorkshire had a really good team but we beat them in the semis and, though Bristol did really well at our place, we flew into them there and put up a real good fight.

“It was one of the highlights of my career and although we didn’t win it was still incredible.”

Griffiths, of course, ended his long association with Doncaster at the end of this season.

Hurrell said: “I love Griff. We got on really well. He’s very passionate and a hell of a bloke.

“We didn’t have a bunch of superstars that year but it was just passion and playing some good rugby and Griff really bringing us together. He’s been a bit ill himself recently so that’s really sad to hear. He was gutted when I said I wanted to go to Bristol. It wasn’t anything to do with the club – I loved Donny and would have happily stayed there – but I wanted to play in the Prem’ and it was the right decision.

“Griff did let me go and he wished me all the best but I loved Donny and it felt like I spent a lot longer there than just that one year.”

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