Despite their understandably indifferent start to the Super League season, St Helens have remained the bookmakers favourite to win a fifth consecutive Grand Final.
And on Thursday night, with a depleted squad, they showed why that was the case with a 28-6 unpicking of Warrington, who never recovered from a slow start that saw them trail 16-0 after 18 minutes.
Hurrell has enjoyed quite the renaissance at St Helens, following his eyebrow raising move from Leeds having failed to light up Headingley as a marquee man.
His Tonga international boss Kristian Woolf knew what he was doing, and he got the best out of Hurrell – and even with Woolf now gone, he has continued as an asset to this all-conquering St Helens team.
Hurrell ran for 169 metres from 18 carries and triggered a lightning Saints start by plucking an interception from new England captain George Williams and romping home from 40 metres.
That prompted a humorous tweet from the Tongan international post-match.
Fastest fat boy in the planet 🤣🤣 https://t.co/9Smh3FGJBf
— Konrad Hurrell (@konmanhurrell) April 20, 2023
Multiple Super League winner Ryan Hall replied saying ‘Surely I’m a close second’ to which Hurrell retorted ‘You have too many abs mate, doesn’t count’!
It’s the sort of exchange that highlights just how valuable Hurrell is to have around the St Helens club, as a player and as a person. He has won the hearts of fans at the Totally Wicked Stadium, although I wasn’t the only one who had my heart in my mouth when he was throwing around new born son Sonny following their recent home win over Wakefield.
Always playing with a smile on his face, Hurrell reminds us all of why we love sport and why we love rugby league.
His occasional frailties in defence have at times been questioned, though he provided a solid makeshift right side three-quarter partnership with Super League rookie Tee Ritson.
The temptation to use a man of his size in the pack was resisted, and coach Paul Wellens was rewarded, even despite the absence of England internationals Tommy Makinson and Mark Percival.
Other top performers for St Helens
There have been critics of Lewis Dodd amidst speculation linking him to the NRL, but he was on the money alongside Jonny Lomax to prove that they are still the Super League half-back pairing to beat.
Jon Bennison provided the highlight of the night, sending Warrington full-back Matt Dufty for a hot dog, with an outrageous dummy for what was probably the gamebreaking try to make it 20-6.
The performance of teenage prop George Delaney was the sort of display that the Wolves could have done with from a young forward of their own given the middles they had missing.
Delaney showed that he is yet another more than capable forward coming off the St Helens production line, playing long minutes in the absence of Alex Walmsley, Sione Mata’utia, Agnatius Paasi and Morgan Knowles.
He will no doubt have benefited from the extra minutes he was forced into against Wakefield earlier in the month when Walmsley went off inside two minutes with a hamstring injury.
Having impressed Wellens with his performances on dual-registration at Swinton, Delaney almost looks Super League seasoned already.
The coach said post-match: “For a 19-year-old front rower to go out and deal with that intensity and stay out there and keep turning up and some of his ball carries were amazing.
“Again, I’m sat in the coaching box thinking I should be taking him off, but I’m not seeing the evidence where I think I need to.
“I can’t commend him enough on that.
“George has got such a long way to go in terms of being a finished article and there’s a lot of detail he needs to work on. But in terms of the raw ingredients to be a top front rower he has got it in him.”
Praise for playmaker Bell
In spite of those missing, as predicted, it felt that the opportunity was there for St Helens to get on top of Warrington as Wigan did and make the most of their defensive intensity that has generally remained, despite them splitting their eight games prior to Thursday night.
James Bell was another who stepped up, making 27 tackles in the middle, but also playing his part playmaking in creating some opportunities for Lomax and Dodd to flourish.
That prompted St Helens Star reporter Mike Critchley’s praise post-match, he wrote: “Now in the past year and a bit we have all seen the enthusiastic, combative style of a player who plays above his body weight.
“But the stand out feature of Bell’s game against Wire was his passing game from first receiver and that provided an extra pivot in the middle of the field.
“Although the role was not quite as commanding as the old school ball playing loose forward role of the Knocker Norton, Shane Cooper or Harry Pinner era, it was nevertheless another valuable component in helping Saints’ attack ask more questions.”
There’s still a long way to go, but Thursday night proved that those writing off St Helens and Paul Wellens were embarrassingly premature.
As for Warrington, it’s not how you start, but how you finish. They will almost certainly surrender top spot in the Super League table to Wigan at the weekend, and instead of being points clear at the top, these last two defeats have now got them looking over their shoulder at the chasing pack that Saints are very much now nestled in, finely poised.