Reds centre James O'Connor. Credit: Brendan Hertel
Reds centre James O'Connor. Credit: Brendan Hertel

‘Hungry’ O’Connor to rip into Reds comeback

James O'Connor feels his whirlwind return to the Wallabies last year has energised him with the right cocktail of "grateful and hungry" to rip into a productive Reds comeback.

Inside centre O'Connor is conspicuously the beacon of experience for the Queensland backs who will start in Super Rugby formation against the NSW Waratahs in a quality trial in Dalby on Friday night.

He is a veritable senior citizen at 29 with young halves Tate McDermott, 21, and Isaac lucas, 20, inside him and young gun Jordan Petaia, 19, ready to run powerful lines outside him.

It is O'Connor's calm from 12 years in top rugby which is essential to this new-look backline firing and it's a challenge he is embracing.

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O'Connor is ready to be a leader for Queensland. Credit: Brendan Hertel
O'Connor is ready to be a leader for Queensland. Credit: Brendan Hertel

 

"Since the start of pre-season this has been about knuckling down and creating something with the Reds," O'Connor said in Dalby.

"I feel my skill set best fits in tighter at inside centre and it means I'm playing inside Jordie, who can take his potential to the highest level in the game.

"I've honestly never played with someone like him and if I can help in the way his game grows that's going to help the team.

"If you have six skill aspects to the game, you'll find top players who tick four-out-of-six. Jordie is six-from-six with his running, his peripheral vision, the way he reads the defence and so on."

 

Petaia and O'Connor will bring the best out of each other. Photo: Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images
Petaia and O'Connor will bring the best out of each other. Photo: Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images

 

 

Farmers around Dalby have seen such youthful centre talent before in the strapping frame of local boy Jason Little, the two-time World Cup winner who was also good enough as a cricketer to hook England's Ian Botham for six when he visited the bush.

O'Connor said it took a month after last year's World Cup for him to properly reflect on his remarkable jump from the wilderness to Wallaby again.

"It was a whirlwind of a year that left me grateful and hungry because there were plenty of times I thought I'd never wear the gold jersey again," O'Connor said.

Reds coach Brad Thorn made it clear that getting Petaia's body fit for the rigours of a full-on season had been a pivotal off-season project.

 

Playing for Australia is a privilege O'Connor appreciates. Photo: Dan Mullan/Getty Images
Playing for Australia is a privilege O'Connor appreciates. Photo: Dan Mullan/Getty Images

 

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"Jordie finished the World Cup as one of the better performers for the Wallabies," Thorn said.

"He hardly touched a footy before Christmas in our pre-season because it was all about getting him physically right so 40 minutes from him will be a good start in this trial."

Thorn guided an improved, more consistent season last year but it still computed to the same modest 6-10 win-loss record as 2018 which was well off the play-offs.

"We're working our tails off and every one wants to be part of finals, part of the next comp after the 16 rounds," Thorn said.

New Waratahs skipper Rob Simmons will lead a side giving young Will Harrison an audition at No.10.


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