Hurrell and Kata's Tongan bonds
This Saturday on opposite sides of Hunter Stadium a friendship which began years ago on dusty Tongan fields will be taken to a new level in the NRL arena.
Standout athletes through their teenage years in a variety of sports, 23-year-old Konrad Hurrell and 20-year-old Solomone Kata were family friends who crossed paths often growing up.
"We are the two who grew up back home in Tonga. We both grew up with nothing and came here to try and get a better future and something to help out our families, so I am pretty stoked for the kid," Hurrell said ahead of Kata's approaching NRL debut against the Knights.
"He was a little bit younger and I knew his older brothers. They grew up on a different island to where I was.
"I never played against 'Solo', but played against his brothers.
"I thought he had a cracker season last year but obviously didn't get a chance in the NRL.
"We stay close to each other off the field now and give each other a bit of stick.
"I am actually just happy there is someone in the team I am taller than – he always says he is taller than me, but he isn't."
For the record Hurrell (183cm) does edge the 177cm-tall Kata in that competition.
Aside from sharing a nation of birth, the two powerfully-built backs have plenty in common and followed a similar road into the system at the Warriors.
Both came to New Zealand to play union at prestigious Auckland high schools, Hurrell with Auckland Grammar School in 2009 and Kata with Sacred Heart College two years later.
After being headhunted by the Warriors they became standouts in the Holden Cup competition, winning a premiership each and impressing with their barnstorming runs and prolific try-scoring feats.
This time three years ago it was Hurrell himself making his first-grade debut in a round one clash, and he knows just how his mate will be feeling ahead of marking up on the bruising Joseph Leilua.
"I reckon he will be pretty nervous but at the same time excited, especially playing alongside superstars like Siana [Manu Vatuvei), [Ryan] Hoffman and Shaun [Johnson]," Hurrell said.
"The boys will look after him on the field at the game. Manu is playing outside him on the left and will talk to him throughout the game."
Kata is joined by three-game rookie Tuimoala Lolohea in the New Zealand backline, and Vatuvei believes the key to getting over the top of their more experienced opposite numbers – who include Origin representatives James McManus and Akuila Uate – will be limiting their time with the ball.
"On both edges we have got a lot of work to do, but we have to trust in our structure and system that we can stop them," said Vatuvei who celebrated his 29th birthday on Wednesday.
"We have just got to make sure we put a lot of pressure on them, get in their face every time they get the ball.
"We can't give them time to put some footwork on us. We won't be able to stop them 100 percent but we will be close to it.
"I have trust in my inside, there will be times when I have to come in on defence and I'll know that if I do they will cover me."
Meanwhile coach Andrew McFadden said this week was a good opportunity for his younger squad members, as doubt hovers over the availability of fullback Sam Tomkins.
"I'm extremely excited, we have a couple of young players this weekend making their debuts and I am excited to see them on the field," he said.
"He [Tomkins] is definitely in doubt, he pulled up a bit sore the other day and we will give him right up until kick off to prove his fitness. We are still very hopeful there.
"On Monday he trained and just tightened up. We will take him to Newcastle and hope that he is OK in the captain's run. He is sore in both hamstrings.
"Tui [Lolohea] at fullback and probably a young kid on the wing [would be the scenario if he fails to play]."
Props Sam Lisone and Albert Vete are the other debutants included on a five-man bench for the Warriors.