Written by Callum Walker
Hailing from Widnes, it’s perhaps a tad surprising that Jarrod O’Connor has progressed through the Leeds academy.
However, the opportunity presented itself when the Vikings – whom O’Connor had signed with as a youngster – went through financial troubles in 2019.
“The move from Widnes to Leeds came about when Widnes, unfortunately, ended up going into administration,” he told Everything Rugby League.
“I just remember sitting on the couch watching a film and my dad coming in and letting me know that Leeds were interested in signing me.
“I had mixed emotions because I was both excited that such a big club like Leeds wanted to sign me, but also sad because I would have to leave my hometown club who I support.
“It all happened fast after that and I ended up signing later that day, but it ended up being a good decision for my career as I made my debut last year and have pushed my way into the first-team squad.”
Being a son of Terry O’Connor, Jarrod was always likely to pick up the oval ball, but the forward states it was entirely his own decision to do so.
“Rugby league has always been my sport since the age of seven.
“Before that, I played football with my school friends, but one day I asked my dad if I could play rugby which was somewhat inspired by my dad being a player before me.
“He never asked me if I ever wanted to play and instead waited for me to ask to start playing because he didn’t want to force me.”
The state of affairs in 2020 thanks to COVID and the bunched-up fixture list meant that the likes of O’Connor were able to get some game time. Despite being a loose-forward, he was drafted in to play hooker by head coach Richard Agar, something which he will never forget.
“Making my debut was one of the best moments in my rugby career, especially playing with all the younger lads in the squad.
“I was gutted fans couldn’t be there for the likes of my girlfriend, family and friends, but due to Sky, my dad was lucky enough to be there as well as my uncle Barrie McDermott.
“Luckily enough the next game was on Sky so everyone could watch me which was a special feeling because it was a dream of mine to follow in my dad’s footsteps.
“I think the squad really helped me in the games and the environment ended up becoming more familiar.
“By the Wakefield fixture, I felt a lot more comfortable with the speed and intensity of Super League.
“Playing with and against all the players I did throughout last year has really given me the confidence to push on in 2021.”
After four appearances in 2020, teenager O’Connor is determined to top that in 2021.
“My goal for 2021 is to just keep improving as much as I can.
“Although I’m still young – 19 until July – I feel like I can really start pushing for a spot in the squad and team every week this year.
“I still have a lot to learn which the coaches and players around me help a lot with, but I believe I am going in the right direction.
“I just want to play the most amount of games I can this year and even help the team get more silverware in any way possible.”