Like his actions on the field, Jacques O’Neill doesn’t mince his words off it.
O’Neill is a hard-hitting, straight-talking Cumbrian who earned more than a few admirers in 2020 with his aggressive, no-nonsense style of play.
One of them was Gareth Ellis, who O’Neill memorably went toe to toe with early in the year.
“I just have no fear at all,” O’Neill tells League Express.
“I’m just aggressive as played, I’ve always been like that since I was young. I’ve always been a bit of an angry kid, so to be able to go on the pitch and get away with it is a good thing for me.
“It’s funny actually. Before the Hull game, Nathan Massey said to me ‘who are you going to get today?’ and I said ‘I’m going to get that Satae’, and I ended up getting him.”
If anything, O’Neill has, at times, been too aggressive. It’s got him into trouble on the pitch, but much more seriously, with his coach.
“I was always aggressive growing up. I had issues when I was 16, Powelly was saying I was too aggressive and stupid,” he explains.
“I had disciplinaries and there were a few at school, too.
“When you’re younger you get away with it a bit more, but Powelly has told me off in the past. He’s been great for me, making me a better player be channelling my aggression like a good player, rather than just being stupid.
“Once I would have hit someone and it would have been a good shot, then I’d have pushed them or been a bit of a gobshite with them. But now I just try go about my business. I watched myself back one game and I was giving people lip and I thought to myself, ‘I don’t need to do that’. I can do what I can do, without being that person or going about pushing people in the head.
“To be fair, last year I was getting my go and I didn’t want to be out of the team for being stupid. So I thought I’d do my business and not go too far. Powelly mentions it a lot, he’d rather me play hard rugby with none of the nonsense. I didn’t want to be taken out of the team, so I didn’t do it.”
His accomplishments resulted in a personal accolade, with League Express readers voting him this newspaper’s young player of the year.
It was an award O’Neill dedicated to his mum after her efforts to help him fulfil his Super League dream by driving him from Cumbria to Castleford after he earned an Academy contract.
“My mum was travelling twice a week helping me out, because that was the only thing for her; she wanted the best for me and backed me. She was taking me twice a week to training. When I went at Christmas I remember it taking two hours and 40 minutes.
“I’m privileged to have a mum like I do, to be fair, because I know a lot of parents wouldn’t do that, twice a week both ways, to help me fulfil my dream.
“She’s over the moon (about the award); she was the one who told me the other night about being the young player of the year. I was in the car driving and she said I won and was so proud. I’m quite humble with stuff like that; I don’t want to get carried away because I know things will be harder next year. But I think she was sharing it everywhere to make sure I got votes.”
O’Neill’s objective this year is simple – be even better.
“I still didn’t showcase what I’m all about. In 2021 I’m making it even bigger.
“I want to be one of the best in my team. I’m not bothered if I’m one of the youngest, I want to be one of the top performers every week.
“I’ve seen the boys be so close and now I’m in the team I want it even more. We’ve signed some good players and got some good depth, so I think this is our year.
“2017 gets mentioned, but I don’t think people like mentioning it because it’s in the past. When I hear 2017 I’m not too keen on it because we’re in 2021 now. It’s so long ago, and we can have a year like that this year.”
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