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Hurrell says coach behind Tonga's rise

By Tony Webeck, Chief Queensland Correspondent‌‌, ‌‌‌NRL.com

Konrad Hurrell : Digital Image by Kylie Cox, copyright @ NRLphotos. Pacific Test, Toa Samoa v Tonga at Cbus Super Stadium, Gold Coast, Saturday May 2nd 2015.
Konrad Hurrell : Digital Image by Kylie Cox, copyright @ NRLphotos. Pacific Test, Toa Samoa v Tonga at Cbus Super Stadium, Gold Coast, Saturday May 2nd 2015.

Tonga's sudden emergence as a genuine force internationally has been put down largely to the decisions by both Jason Taumalolo and Andrew Fifita to turn their backs on tier one nations, but Konrad Hurrell says coach Kristian Woolf has created the environment to make it possible.

Woolf has been part of the Tongan coaching staff since 2014 but took the head coaching role in 2015 and has overseen two victories from four official tests, recording wins over the Cook Islands and Fiji and two narrow losses to Samoa.

Hampering Woolf's efforts to build Tonga's position on the international stage has been the constant defection of players to tier one nations in Australia and New Zealand but now that he has got a couple of players back there is a sense of momentum around the team that hasn't existed previously.

Although he missed the Pacific Test win over Fiji in May, Hurrell is a member of what Woolf believes is the strongest squad Tonga has ever assembled and the Titans centre said Woolf's ability to build a competitive side has contributed to the returns of Taumalolo and Fifita.

"We've got the team and one thing that 'Woolfy' does best is trying to bring the top players back and not wanting them to go to New Zealand or Australia," Hurrell told NRL.com.

"That's obviously where the money is but if you can guarantee we've got a good team and all the boys will get paid whatever it is, then the boys will be happy for it.

"If Tonga doesn't have a good team then none of the best players will come and play for us. But Woolfy has picked a really strong team and if the other superstars know like Jase and them that Tonga has got a strong team they might have a chance of them coming back for Tonga."

An ankle injury suffered against Newcastle in Round 9 – a match in which he scored two tries – saw Hurrell ruled out by the Titans medical staff from representing Tonga but still travelled to Sydney to spend a few days in camp and watch the game from the stands.

Tonga's opening World Cup match against Scotland in Cairns on October 29 represents a chance for Hurrell to earn his fifth Test cap for the nation of his birth and will help him to move past the disappointment of missing the win against Fiji.

"Not to get picked, I was pretty disappointed but I just had to listen and be patient and wait for my time and hopefully my time will come up next time," said Hurrell, who received the Members Most Valuable Player award at the Titans awards night last month. 

"It's always hard because the coach called me and said he would pick me but at the same time you've got to listen to the club. They pay the bills and they gave me another opportunity so I've just got to listen to them.

"Watching the boys, it's just different. If you wear the red jersey, even the young players that haven't even payed NRL they put up their hand and play really hard. Even when they get injured during the games they try to stay on and see how tough they are.

"We'll challenge a couple of teams. Obviously we've got a really hard pool this World Cup, we've got Samoa, Scotland and New Zealand, but every team can be beaten.

"We've just got to get our team together and train hard and hopefully we'll come up with a couple of wins."

Hurrell and Woolf travelled back to Tonga during the season for a World Cup promotion and some clinics in schools and the coach spoke to NRL.com in glowing terms of the lovable joker who is setting a good example on and off the field.

"I went over to Tonga with Koni earlier in the year and I was nothing but impressed with the man that he has developed into and the way that he mixes that side of his character so well," Woolf said. "That hard work along with the ability to have fun when it's time to have fun.

"Everyone sees the type of character he is and he's got a really good ability to make everybody laugh and mix with all different types of people.

"He's like that in camp but he's also really matured in the last couple of years and got a very good ability to knuckle down and work hard when he needs to.

"He's got a real ability to make everyone laugh and make the camp fun when you want it to be fun but he also knows how to train hard and work hard."

This article first appeared on NRL.com