Reformed Reds star James O’Connor wants to repay the faith shown in him by coach Brad Thorn by guiding Queensland to Super Rugby AU glory.
The unofficial leader of Queensland’s backline, O’Connor has been a crucial figure in the Reds’ run to Saturday’s grand final against the Brumbies in Canberra.
But the once wayward O’Connor could easily have been on the rugby scrapheap if not for Thorn, who offered the Gold Coast-born 30-year-old the chance to return to Queensland after a controversial stint in Europe.
Disciplinarian Thorn had put a line through a host of other Reds greats, including Quade Cooper, but gave O’Connor a shot at redemption.
TRY OF THE WEEK | Super Rugby AU QF@Reds_Rugby Lukhan Solokaia-Loto will be credited with the try but it was the sweet dummy by Hunter Paisami that got them there.#TryOfTheWeek #SuperRugby25Years #SuperRugbyAU pic.twitter.com/WRBzr54oiI
— Super Rugby/TRC (@SuperRugby) September 14, 2020
“All I asked for was an opportunity and I was very thankful I was given it, and I hope I’ve repaid that,” O’Connor said.
“With Thorny, what you see is what you get. He likes it if you’re upfront … and you’re just accountable for your actions,
“That’s the way I live my life now, so we’ve got along pretty well.”
O’Connor, who has taken over the Reds flyhalf role this year after initially playing at inside centre, has enjoyed the trust Thorn has shown in him.
“I’m playing 10 so we chat every morning before the team connects in terms of game plans, how we’re going to approach the session, what we’re going to do that day – there’s a lot of conversations that go on away from the training paddock,” he said.
“That’s something I’ve never been involved with, so it’s a lot more work but it’s amazing when you gain the rewards and you feel like you’ve really grown.
“I’ve grown as the team’s grown. I’ve learnt a lot this year. I’ve learnt an incredible amount.”
However, O’Connor admitted that the Reds’ resurgence as a Super Rugby force started well before his 2020 return year.
“I came (back) at a pretty good time. They’d laid the foundations down, recruited really well, there’s a Queensland base within the team, so for me to just come in it’s been pretty seamless,” he said.
“It’s just to add a few little tweaks here and there, and getting to know the guys and how each of them play, and just trying to unlock that talent that was already here.
“The guys knew what they wanted to do, what they wanted to achieve … there was belief building already.
“There was quite a bit of unfinished business before I came back this year, so it means a lot to us, and to me in particular.
“I’m my harshest critic. Anybody’s who’s played with me and anybody who’s coached me understands that, and if I feel I’m doing the correct job for the team, that’s all I need.”
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