IT WAS not supposed to be like this for Konrad Hurrell and Leeds Rhinos.
When the eight-times Super League champions announced in October they had signed the brilliant Tonga centre – a genuine star of the NRL – it, in theory, signalled the start of a bright new era.
Finishing in the bottom four twice in three years had necessitated urgent action and the recruitment of the blockbusting Gold Coast Titan, former Kangaroos forward Trent Merrin and Wests Tigers stand-off Tui Lolohea along with Australian head coach Dave Furner, showed Leeds meant business.
Yet, after eight games of the new campaign and ahead of tonight’s visit from Castleford Tigers, rather than challenging the elite at the top of Super League, alarmingly Rhinos sit bottom.
Whereas in those previous excursions down there, they had the safety net of the Qualifiers and facing Championship sides to ease clear of trouble, there is no such protection in 2019; automatic relegation has returned and the bottom team will go down.
Clearly, there is plenty of time to turn things around – they are barely past the quarter mark – but the current run of form that has returned just one win so far cannot continue much longer.
Given Hurrell’s status as a ‘marquee’ player, someone whose salary cap value is limited to just £150,000 with clubs able to pay whatever wages they want above that, is there greater pressure on him to help turn things around?
Talking to The Yorkshire Post, the 28-year-old insisted: “No, not really. There has been big talk about it (marquee) – it’s been like that for the last three months.
“But for myself I need to come here and work hard for myself and the boys.
“The first thing is I need to earn the jersey; I don’t want to come here and just muck around and put on the jersey.
The first thing is I need to earn the jersey; I don’t want to come here and just muck around and put on the jersey.Konrad Hurrell
“I want to work hard for it and be the player that everyone wants to play next to. That’s what I’m trying to do.
“So the marquee thing and all that talk, there is pressure there.
“But if do my job that pressure will just go away.”
In fairness, Hurrell is doing his job; he is both Super League’s top metre-maker and tackle-buster, those trademark thunderous runs causing real damage to defences, and the winger playing outside him – Ash Handley – is the competition’s leading try-scorer and clean-breaker.
Furthermore, Merrin, for his part, has made more offloads than anyone in Super League while no one has assisted in more tries than Lolohea.
It makes it all the more remarkable Leeds are actually bottom yet is also a timely reminder of the famous saying about lies, damned lies and statistics.
There is no mention of defence in those earlier references and that is where Furner will be keen to see his side improve markedly tonight.
Put bluntly, they have shipped points more like a torrent than a leak.
“It’s just little things we need to work on,” added the giant Hurrell, who has crossed for four tries.
“Top metres and all that sort of stuff comes later.
“What we need to work hard on is playing as a team; we need to build on our defence and work harder there and hopefully we’ll win games. Then those things can come later but we need to win more games now.
“Our attack is pretty good. The combinations are getting better and better.
“We just need to work on our ‘d’ on Thursday and try, play aggressive and hopefully our defence will set us up. We have to be strong on our ‘d’ against Cas. They’ve started the season very well.
“They had a hiccup last week against a good St Helens side but they are tough to beat.”
Famously, Castleford are especially tough to beat at Headingley; they have not lost at their derby rivals since 2013, covering a six-game unbeaten run, so there will be no sense of home comforts potentially aiding Leeds.
Last Friday’s 42-12 loss against leaders Saints was only Tigers’ second defeat of the year while, the next day, Rhinos fell 26-22 in Perpignan, another one of those near-misses that are becoming the norm’ for Furner’s side.
As is so often the case, Leeds had chances to secure the victory, only to slip up at the crucial moment.
Hurrell, for example, spilled when playing the ball near the death, wasting a promising position after a break had got them close, his mistake compounded when he threw the ball away in disgust to then concede a penalty.
That frustration perfectly summed up what everyone must be feeling at Headingley but he has urged fans to stay patient.
“They’ll be disappointed as well with the results,” he said.
“But obviously Dave Furner has come in and is trying to recreate something he believes in.
“It’s up to us players to back him up and do it on the field but I do feel what he’s doing is improving us week by week.
“Obviously it’s not working as quickly as we’d want it to but we have faith in him and faith in his vision to do the job so I’d ask the fans to keep believing.
“I know it’s a tough time but as a team we’re staying together.
“I’m still excited and looking forward at what the team is going to bring.”