Every season there’s that one player who starts the campaign as a squad player and ends up becoming a key player in a breakout season.
For Leeds, that man is Jarrod O’Connor. Given the number 24 shirt at the start of the season, he was expected to be no more than a squad player but he has instead taken a hold of a spot in the first team and not let go.
Should he play in Saturday’s Grand Final, which he almost certainly will, he will make his 22nd consecutive appearance which is just as much as a surprise for O’Connor as it is the fact he won a semi-final last weekend.
“No I didn’t imagine I’d be playing every week either to be fair never mind playing in a semi-final,” O’Connor told Serious About Rugby League, “This year has been a rollercoaster but has been really enjoyable along the way and I’m just taking each week as it comes. ”
Of course plenty of those 22 consecutive appearances have come at hooker which is not O’Connor’s natural position but is a role that has suited him to a tee in 2022 giving Leeds great physicality in the middle defensively which has seen star hookers Kruise Leeming and Brad Dwyer kept out of the starting 13,
“I’m not sure where I see myself to be honest I’m obviously used to playing loose forward but I am really enjoying playing hooker at the minute,” O’Connor said, “I like switching between 9 and 13 in the game which allows me to play bigger minutes which is what I want to do. The more I’m playing hooker the more I feel I’m learning.”
O’Connor did reveal that the other number nines at Leeds have been really helpful in helping him develop in the role: “Kruise Leeming, Brad Dwyer and Corey Johnson have all been outstanding with me. I couldn’t of asked for more off them all giving me little tips on what to look for and how to get better. Kruise even sat me down and did video analysis with me which he didn’t have to do but did off his own back which I really appreciate and I think it shows why he’s captain because he’s a true leader!
“We have never spoke about whose playing and not to each other but I think how we all support each other shows how close the team is. No matter who is playing and not we all want each other to do well and I think it shows how far we’ve come as a team and is why we are winning bigger games because we are pushing each other to be better and improve each week.”
It’s likely that O’Connor will again start at hooker on Saturday with Leeming on the bench, and if O’Connor can continue his great form which saw him pick up the Man of the Match against Wigan as well as a first try it will go a long way to helping Leeds to a ninth Super League title.