People outside of Leeds might have been critical of Leeds’ season but there’s plenty for Rhinos fans to be pleased about.
Take the young players currently at the club. For young players who could be regarded as the crux of Leeds’ next successful side, 2022 has been another season of development with plenty of encouraging signs from the young men at Headingley.
Max Simpson and Jack Sinfield have made their first four appearances at senior level, Sam Walters has begun turning into a top notch option at prop but perhaps the young man who has enjoyed the best season at Leeds this year is Jarrod O’Connor.
O’Connor made his Leeds debut back in 2020 often playing as a nine and even kicking goals in midweek fixtures as the first team played in weekend Challenge Cup rounds as the club secured their 14th Challenge Cup trophy during the pandemic.
A loose-forward by trade, his ability to play at nine has been a huge asset to Leeds since he burst onto the scene helping ameliorate any injury crisis which befalls the Rhinos. This has of course seen him become a key player for the Rhinos this year even taking the reigns at nine following the injury to skipper Kruise Leeming.
This has seen him make plenty of appearances in this his best season to date.
In an exclusive interview with us, Jarrod opened up about his exploits this season believing it is his “best season to date.”
He said of 2022: “Yeah I think this is the best season to date for the fact that I feel I’m more important to the team and not just filling in. I think I’m starting to play in the so called bigger games which is where everyone wants to be involved and it’s filling me with confidence.”
Of course, one of the reasons he has become so important to the Rhinos this year has been that ability to fill in at nine.
However he told us that he prefers to play at 13 but is more than happy to keep playing as a hooker: “I prefer 13 but I’m happy to fill in at 9 as it would be a close second but it’s a challenge to take on a position and I’m really enjoying it. It’s just another skill I can add to the team when it’s needed.”
The Rhinos do have another outstanding young loose-forward at the club in Cameron Smith who burst onto the scene a few years prior to O’Connor.
Jarrod opened up on the role that Smith has played in his development since his debut back in 2020 with both playing a key part in the Leeds attack when they figure at 13 due to their ability to knit the attack together due to their superb handling skills.
On Smith, O’Connor said: “Me and Cam can play a similar role when on the pitch at 13 and in training I think it’s easy to feed off each other and learn new things. Cam has been helpful to me coming through with little tips he’s had for me which have brought me on a long way since my debut.”
O’Connor’s own teammates aren’t the only inspiration for his playing style in that 13 role.
When asked if any former Leeds players were an inspiration, O’Connor proudly spoke about how he likes to play the game in a different way to the traditional 13. Instead, he suggested that St Helens’ Morgan Knowles has been an inspiration as well as some NRL stars.
He said: “I don’t think there are many Leeds players that I’d be similar to because I like to play like a small 13 who can be tough and carry but have to skill to be the ball player a lot like Morgan Knowles who I always watched in super league and a few in the NRL.”
O’Connor is set to star in Leeds’ huge game with Wigan tomorrow likely at hooker with Leeming’s season likely over.
Thus, he will likely continue to play a massive part in the Rhinos’ campaign and their rebuild under Rohan Smith.