Experienced players set to return - but Jarrod O'Connor says Leeds Rhinos' rookies have proved they are ready
Teenager Jarrod O’Connor reckons he has proved he can do a job when needed, despite his Leeds Rhinos call-up coming sooner than expected.
O’Connor, 19, played four times for Rhinos last season and has been a substitute in their past two games.
An injury crisis, with up to 12 players being ruled out, forced coach Richard Agar’s hand, but five senior men - Ash Handley, Konrad Hurrell, Richie Myler, Bodene Thompson and King Vuniyayawa - are back in contention for Friday's game at Hull KR.
O’Connor has kept his place in Leeds’ initial 21, but with Alex Mellor and Rhyse Martin set to revert back into the pack - and Thompson and Vuniyayawa also in the reckoning - he could be one of the players who drops out on matchday.
O’Connor understands the situation and feels the rookies who have featured in recent weeks have all proved they are ready for top-flight action when the call comes.
“I am just happy to have got two games early on in the year,” the Warrington-born forward, who is the son of ex-Wigan and Great Britain prop Terry O’Connor, said.
“I was expecting to have to wait a little bit, for a few injuries.
“It has come earlier than expected, but I’ve just tried to do my job and make no errors and show whenever he [coach Richard Agar] needs me I can do the job.”
Rhinos also had 17-year-old Morgan Gannon and Corey Hall, 18, among their substitutes against Wigan Warriors a week ago and Sam Walters and Jack Broadbent, both 20, were in the starting lineup.
Other than Gannon, who stepped up from Rhinos’ scholarship at the start of pre-season, all of them had a taste of first team rugby in 2020, when Agar rested first-choice players before and after big Challenge Cup ties.
“I think last year helped us,” O’Connor said.
“Playing against Catalans, Warrington and St Helens helped him realise we can all do a job for him.
“Although we’ve not won the last few weeks, I think we’ve proved again we are ready.”
The rookies have been thrown in at the deep end, against Betfred Super League’s benchmark teams over the last two weeks.
It was a similar story last year and O’Connor recalled: “It’s only been Wakefield we’ve played who aren’t a top-four team.
“We’ve had to play all the top teams, but I think showing we can do it against them shows we are ready for any team if he needs us.”
Though the youngsters are likely to drop out as more experienced players return, O’Connor reckons what they have learned already this season is invaluable.
“Just getting two games early on and getting game fitness back stands us in good stead for the rest of the year,” he said.
“I think everyone’s proved themselves now and if anyone gets injured I don’t think Rich will be worried about bringing us in.”
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