Leeds Rhinos star Jarrod O'Connor's defiant pledge ahead of Super League clash with Hull FC
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Another defeat would leave them already playing catch up and while Leeds were well off the pace against Warrington,O’Connor reckons there are no excuses for not playing well this time.
“We’ve had a long pre-season together and those partnerships have been growing for a few months,” the 21-year-old hooker, who was voted Rhinos’ most impressive young player last year, said.
“We need to get them clicking because we don’t want to wait nine or 10 rounds like we did last year.
“We don’t want to be down near the bottom end of the table and having to win every game towards the back end of the year.
“We want to be up at the top, battling for top spot. We want to win as many trophies as we can because at a club like Leeds it’s not a successful year unless you do win trophies. That is 100 per cent what we are aiming to do.”
Rhinos have had a full week to dwell on what went wrong in round one and O’Connor vowed: “Obviously we were really disappointed about how the game went last week, but I think we can move on from that.
“We’ve looked at a few things we can take into this week and moving forward. We had a kick in the face and a bit of a wake up call, I reckon and going into this week everyone’s going to be extra pumped up.
“We just want to get going so we can get into that form we showed at the back end of last year.”
Warrington, who finished second-bottom in 2022, did enough last week to suggest they will be a force this season and Hull KR’s win over Wigan Warriors was another upset.
“Every team poses their own threat,” O’Connor warned. “All teams have made really good signings, whether from Super League or the NRL, but I think that only adds to the challenge.
“It makes Super League more interesting to watch, because you don’t know who’s going to win. I think it’s going to be a close league and it might come down to one or two points for the play-offs or top of the table.”
Though three-quarter Nene Macdonald has recovered from injury and is likely to make his debut this week, Rhinos are still missing first-choice centre Harry Newman, prop Mikolaj Oledzki and second-row James Bentley.
“The players who came in [last week] deserved a starting spot, so I don’t think you could call it a weaker team,” O’Connor said.
“I am really confident in the squad we’ve got. We’ve recruited really well, I think Justin [Sangare] had a really good start to the season, he played really well last week and added some impact.
“I reckon with the squad we’ve got we should be aiming for first place, we don’t want to be coming second or third, we want to be winning the league.”
Hull have similar ambitions and boast a good recent record at Headingley, with a win there in each of the past four seasons. Leeds, however, are unbeaten on their own turf in nine games, stretching back to last April.
O’Connor added: “It’s always good playing at home, with your own fans behind you. You want to make your home ground somewhere you don’t lose.
“We started doing that last year, under Rohan [Smith, Rhinos’ coach]. We want to make it a place where people don’t want to come and play because they know it’s going to be a really tough game. Hopefully we can start with a good win on Friday.”
Hull kicked off with a 32-30 home win over Castleford Tigers last week, though they were given a fright in the final quarter as the visitors roared back from 32-6 behind.
Centre Liam Sutcliffe and hooker Brad Dwyer, who was kept out of Rhinos’ play-off side by O’Connor’s outstanding form, will be making a rapid return to their old haunt after joining Hull in the off-season.
“They are always a tough team to play,” O’Connor noted. “They are normally a very physical side and they’ve got a lot of size.
“Brad Dwyer and Sutty have gone there and we know how they play and the threats they pose. We can’t take them lightly because we know how good their players are, especially those two.”