Leeds Rhinos’ semi-final win against Wigan could be described as a microcosm for their season.
The Rhinos had their backs against the wall in the first half much like how Leeds were up against it and swept up in a relegation battle.
As Leeds produced some energy sapping defence, it seemed unlikely that Leeds would be able to find the energy to win the game just as it seemed unlikely at the halfway point of the season that the Rhinos would find a way to make it into the play-offs. The Grand Final itself seemed impossible.
However, in the second half Leeds turned things on their head with a terrific second 40. Jarrod O’Connor darted over to get the ball rolling before a James Bentley brace secured Leeds’ place at Old Trafford.
But it was a win founded on defence and although O’Connor scored, he was one of the standouts defensively and speaking with Serious About Rugby League he explained what it was like in those moments when Leeds were clinging on: “When we did all the defending against Wigan I think we just knew that we could do it. We had the self belief because we have proven we can do it before. We are always calm and confident in our ability and I think the longer we defend our line as well as we did the more confident we grow in the game because we know we can score points.”
That has left Leeds with a real shot at glory today, but what would it mean to O’Connor to lift that trophy not only after the journey his team has been on but the journey he himself has taken to get here becoming Leeds’ starting hooker despite being a loose-forward by trade.
“To lift the trophy on Saturday would be everything I’ve ever dreamed of,” O’Connor said, “Obviously I think every young player just dreams of winning the grand final at old Trafford in front of 70,000 fans. To think I’m going to get the chance to play in that game is surreal to me. I don’t feel like it’s real but I’m just going to get on with the preparation as I have all year and just enjoy the week. I know it can be a long time between finals and just want to go about it how I usually would and get the job done!”