'You can never relax': Leeds Rhinos' Jarrod O'Connor on fighting for his spot, team form and task v Hull KR

Shooting Star Jarrod O’Connor has confirmed his ambition to be “a long-term nine” for Leeds Rhinos.
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O’Connor, 21, joined Leeds from Widnes Vikings four years ago as a loose-forward, but made a positional switch last season.

Since then he has effectively seen off two senior hookers with Brad Dwyer joining Hull FC and Kruise Leeming, holder of the number nine jersey since 2020, asking for a transfer.

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O’Connor, voted Rhinos’ most impressive young player by Yorkshire Evening Post readers last year, is now firmly established in the team, having been ever-present since April last year.

Rhinos' new first-choice hooker Jarrod O'Connor.  Picture by Tony Johnson.Rhinos' new first-choice hooker Jarrod O'Connor.  Picture by Tony Johnson.
Rhinos' new first-choice hooker Jarrod O'Connor. Picture by Tony Johnson.

He was the club’s official man of the match in last week’s win over Catalans Dragons, when he was among the try scorers, but wants to be better when Rhinos visit Hull KR on Friday.

“I think I did well in attack, but there were one or two lapses in defence,” O’Connor said of last week’s performance.

“Hopefully I’ll fix that up. I am not getting too far ahead of myself and I want to keep improving week by week and try and secure the starting spot as much as I can. Hopefully, touch wood, I’ll be a long-term nine at Leeds.”

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The coast, however, is far from clear, with former England academy hooker Corey Johnson snapping at O’Connor’s heels after making his first team comeback from injury off the bench last week.

Rhinos' former England academy hooker Corey Johnson is now fully fit after back injury. Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com.Rhinos' former England academy hooker Corey Johnson is now fully fit after back injury. Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com.
Rhinos' former England academy hooker Corey Johnson is now fully fit after back injury. Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com.

“As long as you’re on form, Rohan will pick you,” O’Connor said. “It doesn’t matter about age and experience; Rohan showed a lot of faith in me last year, when I didn’t have much experience.

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“I know how good a player Corey is and what he is capable of. He’ll keep pushing me and I’ll keep pushing him and hopefully we can keep improving together.

“Then younger than that there lads coming through the academy, Bailey Aldridge trains with us now and he’s doing really well so there’s never a moment when you can relax and think your position’s secure, because it never is.”

Bailey Aldridge, pictured in pre-season action against Bradford, trains with Rhinos' first team squad. Picture by Tony Johnson.Bailey Aldridge, pictured in pre-season action against Bradford, trains with Rhinos' first team squad. Picture by Tony Johnson.
Bailey Aldridge, pictured in pre-season action against Bradford, trains with Rhinos' first team squad. Picture by Tony Johnson.
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Even so, O’Connor sometimes has to pinch himself at being Rhinos’ first-choice hooker.

“All I ever wanted to do was be a Super League player,” he said. “Coming through I thought I would be a loose-forward, but Rohan saw an opportunity for me to play somewhere else which I am really grateful for.

“I think it has made me as a player a lot better and more effective. I am really enjoying it as well, it’s not as if I am being forced to play there and I am taking it week by week.”

Rhinos hit back from 22-8 down at half-time to beat Catalans 32-22, scoring five tries after the break and will travel to Hull KR in confident mood.

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O’Connor said: “I think we’ve been having some decent performances, but a few lapses in concentration have got us in some games.

“I’m sure after last week’s game and the way our attack started to flow, we can kick on now. We attacked quite well in the first-half, there were just some little errors on the back of it.

“In the second-half we managed to put away the chances we had and that’s something we need to keep doing going forward so we can keep getting those wins.

Catalans have been a strong side this year, so the way we attacked was a positive and we’ll take a lot of confidence from that, going into this next game against Hull KR.”

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O’Connor was Rhinos’ official man of the match, but Channel 4 gave the award to Leeds stand-off Blake Austin. He ripped Catalans to shreds in the final 40 and O’Connor insisted: “I think he had had a strong start to the season anyway, but it was his best game of the year so far.

“I’m sure he will be looking to kick on with that consistency now and making sure he gets as close to that as he can every game. Obviously that’ll be hard, but I am sure a player of his standard will be able to do it.”

Hull KR have a similar record to Leeds with three wins from six games and began the weekend fourth in Betfred Super League, three places above Rhinos, on points difference.

Leeds were hammered 26-4 at Sewell Group Craven Park in pre-season, but O’Connor said: “Both teams are a lot stronger than they were in that game.

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“The way we attacked in our last game and the way we know we can play, I am sure if we get into the groove of the game and don’t leave it too late, we should have a good game and get the win.”

If Rhinos are going to achieve anything this year, they have to avoid a repeat of what happened two weeks ago when they backed up wins over St Helens and Wakefield Trinity with a dire performance in a defeat at Castleford Tigers.

“We should never have lost that,” O’Connor admitted. “Hopefully that was a one-off. When we have a good game we always want to back it up and that’s what we’ll try and do this week.”