Jarrod O’Connor following in father’s footsteps while forging his own path at Leeds Rhinos

Terry O’Connor lifted the Super League title in the inaugural Grand Final, and son Jarrod could follow in his footsteps this week.

Former Wigan Warriors prop Terry was part of the 1998 team that beat Leeds Rhinos at Old Trafford, and he will walk out the Super League trophy on Saturday for this year’s showpiece.

But this time he will be cheering on Leeds, because his 21-year-old offspring will be part of the team bidding to take down St Helens and claim glory.

“It will be quite a special occasion, especially if we win and get to lift it,” said Jarrod.

“He’s obviously a big role model that I’ve had growing up and I’ll always look up to him.”

Jarrod is forging his own path, but the elevation to the very top has come suddenly. He debuted for Leeds in 2020 but was only given sporadic appearances until Rohan Smith’s appointment in April.

The club has undergone a rapid resurgence under Smith and that is mirrored by O’Connor, who has played in every game for the new coach.

Most of those outings have come as a hooker, despite his favoured position previously being loose forward.
But he has excelled to the extent that he is keeping Brad Dwyer out of the side and club captain Kruise Leeming on the bench.

“At the start of the year I didn’t even expect to be playing every week,” he admits.

“We obviously had a few injuries and I’m lucky enough that Rohan has kept me in the team when everyone has come back. The confidence he’s shown in me has helped me tremendously.”

O’Connor produced another fine display in the Rhinos’ semi-final win at Wigan on Friday night, in which he kick-started a second-half comeback with the first try of his entire career.

That he says he “couldn’t see us losing” that game illustrates the belief that Smith has instilled, and it has been necessary considering Leeds sat tenth in the table at the beginning of July and only sneaked into the play-offs in the closing minutes of the final day in the regular season.

Play-off victories at Catalans Dragons and then Wigan – who had been unbeaten at home all year – have only demonstrated the remarkable extent of the transformation.

“He just allows people to express themselves,” explained O’Connor of Smith’s impact.

“When he came in, the first thing he tried to focus on was that everyone gets to do their best plays and what they’re best at.

“That’s what we’re seeing; everyone is doing the plays that work for them.

“Then there’s a calmness in defence, so we know even when they score first it doesn’t matter because we always find a way back.”

Now Leeds face their final and greatest challenge, as they return to the Old Trafford stage for the first time in five years and attempt to dethrone Saints, the winners of the past three Grand Finals.

“I can’t imagine playing at Old Trafford; it’s something I’ve always grown up wanting to do,” said O’Connor.

“Knowing that we’re going to do it next week, it’s not gone through my head yet. It hasn’t sunk in.

“I go every year to watch (the Grand Final) so the fact I’m going to be in it will be surreal, I can’t believe it.

“I’m sure all the boys will say this will be the most they’ve been up for any game.

“Most of our team haven’t won a Grand Final so this will be the biggest game in most of their careers.”

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