'Seven games to play well in': Jarrod O'Connor reveals Leeds Rhinos' top six target - and who his famous dad really supports
In what was a hugely encouraging team effort, one of Leeds Rhinos’ most eye-catching performances when they shocked Wigan Warriors came from rookie hooker Jarrod O’Connor.
Having turned 21 the day before last week’s 42-12 win, O’Connor celebrated with a sparkling performance out of dummy-half, including a sensational early break and quick work to set up a first half try for Rhyse Martin.
It was O’Connor’s third successive start at hooker following an injury to Kruise Leeming and, now the captain has been diagnosed with a stress fracture of a foot, he could be set for an extended run in the role.
“There’s an opportunity to get that nine spot, or just make sure I am playing every week,” O’Connor stated.
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“If I can be playing every week, whether that’s starting or whatever, I just want to be doing that. That’s the aim.”
“I am still learning it,” he said of the acting-half position.
“I am trying to get better week by week and Rohan is really helping me with that
“There’s been a lot of players who have come through as 13 and turned out to be nines.
“It is something I can add to mky game and that’s only going to be good for me.
“I am just taking it week by week at the moment and just trying to get little improvements.”
O’Connor has made 29 first team appearances for Rhinos - including 14 in Super League this year - but admitted last week’s effort was “one of my better games”.
He said: “Games like that will come if I keep working in little bits, which I am doing with all the coaches.
“I think that’s really benefiting me.
“Everyone really enjoyed it.
“I think when we start tough and we get the tough part out of the way and can start playing an expansive brand of rugby, that’s when everyone has a smile on their face.”
The win over Wigan came without a host of key players including back half-backs, their first-choice hooker and all but one of Leeds’ experienced props.
But O’Connor noted: “Whoever’s filling in, everyone’s just wants to work for each other and I think that’s what we saw - just a bunch of lads who want to be there.”
It was also Rhinos’ first against a team in Super League’s top two since a victory at St Helens in March, 2018 and they are now just one point outside the play-offs.
“Knowing we are pushing for the top six, that’s only going to fill us with confidence,” O’Connor said.
“Beating the team second in the table does the same, knowing we can compete with the bigger sides.
“We are just talking it week by week at the moment, we aren’t getting too far ahead of ourselves - we know we’ve still got another seven games we need to play well in first.”
Leeds will travel to Catalans Dragons on Saturday having won three of their previous four games, all against teams in the top six.
“We’ve been outstanding,” O’Connor added of those victories.
“We have scored a lot of points and if we can keep winning and doing that, we will be right up there.”
“We prepared well, all the coaching staff helped us; they couldn’t have done any more and I think that put us in good stead.”
Rhinos have had a habit of letting their heads drop when things go against them this year, but that hasn’t been the case in recent matches.
O’Connor said: “That’s the team spirit - we don’t care about mistakes or decisions, we just get back up and want to work for each other.”
O’Connor’s dad, Terry O’Connor, played 313 times for Wigan from 1994-2004, winning every available domestic honour.
Last week gave Jarrod bragging rights over his father, now a pundit on Sky Sports, but he admitted: “He doesn’t really care, to be fair.
“He just wants me to play well.
“I will always get into him about it, but he just supports whoever I play for.”