LEEDS RHINOS star Konrad Hurrell played his part in Tonga’s historic win over world champions Australia – and then bagged the shirt of the player he rates the best centre in the sport.
Powerhouse Hurrell was at his barnstorming best as the Tonga Invitational XIII stunned the Kangaroos 16-12 in Auckland on Saturday.
On an historic night, it was the first time a second-tier nation had ever defeated the Green and Golds and, remarkably, the only instance anyone other than New Zealand, England or Great Britain had beaten them since France did so in 1978.
Hurrell, 28, enjoyed a fascinating tussle with Latrell Mitchell, the 22-year-old New South Wales State of Origin star who recently won back-to-back NRL Grand Finals with Sydney Roosters and earned Dally M Centre of the Year.
“I’m a big fan of him,” he said.
“Obviously he’s a young kid, a great player and he’s amazing.
“I’m a massive fan of him and after the game we swapped jersies.
“As you can all see his jersey is a bit smaller than mine. I guess mine will fit a couple of Latrell in there but I’m just buzzing that we managed to get a win over Australia and get Latrell’s jersey as well.
“I was up against the best centre in the world and I just wanted to take a little memory of him.”
Hurrell rattled the classy Mitchell with one huge hit but, asked if he wanted to get one over his garlanded opponent, he insisted: “Not really.
“I just wanted to get the win.
“But in my head the whole week I know he’s the best centre in the world and I needed to bring my A game.
“I don’t want to let my boys down. And obviously that’s the main goal for us sometimes – to get into him.
“My head the whole time in training was about how I just had to stomp him down, work on my defence and my inside shoulder and all that stuff.
“I guess he kind of got me in the first half, fending off my face, but I was chasing him around in the second half and I’d been getting him.”
Tonga, who had former Rhinos player Tui Lolohea at stand-off, were six points behind at the break.
However, with such power in their ranks, the side coached by Kristian Woolf – who takes over at St Helens in 2020 – grew into the contest and eventually claimed one of the biggest upsets in the sport’s history.
Hurrell – who enjoyed a fine debut campaign at Headingley after moving as a ‘marquee’ player from Gold Coast Titans – added: “At half-time Woolfy just came and talked to me.
“I think I kind of needed some energy in there.
“I just tried my best and we just happened to get the win.”
Tonga players were in tears at the end and their patriotic fans, who dominated a crowd of 25,257 at Eden Park as Saturday’s triple-header came to a close, never relented with their constant singing and acclaim.
They had beaten Great Britain the week before and – despite their relative tiny population of just 105,000 – have suddenly emerged as real contenders for the 2021 World Cup.
Hurrell’s biggest fan is his proud mother and he said: “She’s in a wheelchair but I think she’ll be running around now! The last game she jumped up and forgot about her bad knees.
“This last week she’s had a swollen knee but I’m just grateful that we did this for our people.
“I think they’ll go crazy. But once it hits 12 o’clock it’s Sunday and you can’t do much in Tonga; it’s like a spiritual day.
“Maybe they’ll be breaking the rules!”