Exclusive: Jarrod O’Connor praises “outstanding” Richard Agar & the “huge impact” of Rohan Smith at Leeds Rhinos

The fact Leeds are playing in a Grand Final on Saturday is a huge achievement.

The Rhinos were second bottom in April and only had one win to their name. Going into their game against Toulouse, which was a typical basement battle, they knew defeat would see them slip to the bottom of the league.

However, since Rohan Smith has taken over, the Rhinos have been amazing. Smith has only lost five games in total and guided Leeds to the play-offs which at one stage seemed very unlikely whilst a Grand Final appearance seemed impossible.

Yet, the new boss Smith has delivered it with 13 wins since he’s taken over and one more win would deliver the Super League title in an amazing turnaround.

For one Leeds player, the impact of Smith has been “huge.” That man is semi-final Man of the Match and try scorer Jarrod O’Connor.

O’Connor is very much a microcosm of Leeds’ season. Many believed he would be a bit part player at the start of the year and no where near a Grand Final, however he is now a key player at Leeds as their first choice number nine despite the presence of Kruise Leeming and Brad Dwyer.

He has developed into a superb player and is a nightmare for any attack in defence. He is the player who embodies the Rohan Smith revolution in 2022 and he spoke to Serious About Rugby League about the impact Smith has had on him going from an option at loose-forward to a starting hooker.

“Rohan has had a huge impact on me individually,” O’Connor said, “The faith he’s shown in me and allowed me to play every week has helped my development a lot. He’s given tips each week on how to improve and makes sure I prepare the same every game.
“Giving me a chance to play another position has been a big thing I appreciate as well because he has noticed that I could add another part to my game which will only help me get in the team even more. But overall I think he’s just giving me all the tools I’ve needed to improve and helped me lots this year come on as an every week super league player.”
Smith certainly has had a huge impact at Leeds, but what about his predecessor. It’s easy to forget that many of the players in this Leeds squad were brought through by Richard Agar who stopped Leeds’ slide in 2019 and led them to a Challenge Cup.
Yes the start of the season was poor from Agar’s side, but he had put the foundations in place for Leeds to kick on under someone else. Agar should be credited for having the humility to step aside when it was time.
O’Connor echoes these cements praises Agar for an “outstanding” job.
“Yeah I think the job Rich Agar did when he come in to the job was outstanding,” O’Connor said, “I think the team just needed to have a reset and start again and I think Rich did that by bringing the whole squad closer together and started to bring a new generation of players through that we are starting to see now. I think he got us back on track and steadied the ship at Leeds.”
It has been an amazing journey from where Agar left them to where Smith has O’Connor and his teammates now and now they’re set to play in a Grand Final and O’Connor is so close to a dream come true: “To lift the trophy on Saturday would be everything I’ve ever dreamed of. 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!”
It could be even more special for O’Connor whose dad former Wigan forward and current Sky Sports commentator Terry is delivering the trophy to the ground. Maybe Jarrod will leave with it.
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