Leeds Rhinos v Warrington Wolves: Rhinos have room for improvement, insists Jarrod O'Connor

LEEDS RHINOS have made their best start to a season since before the Covid pandemic, but rising star Jarrod O’Connor feels there is more to come from their developing side.

Rhinos have won four of their opening six Betfred Super League fixtures going into tonight’s (Friday’s) visit of Warrington Wolves and began the round sitting sixth in the table, just two points behind the leaders.

In 2020 they won five of their opening six league matches, though the last of those victories came after the coronavirus-enforced break. Leeds lost four of their first six in 2021, five the following year and had a 50 per cent record at this stage last term.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Hooker O’Connor, who made his debut in 2020, noted: “As a team, it’s probably the best start we’ve had since I’ve been here.

Leeds' Jarrod O'Connor is tackled by St Helens. (Picture: SWPix.com)Leeds' Jarrod O'Connor is tackled by St Helens. (Picture: SWPix.com)
Leeds' Jarrod O'Connor is tackled by St Helens. (Picture: SWPix.com)

“I think we are starting to build more and more. We had that Saints game in the Cup where we know we could have done a lot better, but other than that I think we’ve had a steady start to the season and it’s time to kick on.”

Lachie Miller scored two tries in an outstanding individual performance at Castleford Tigers last week and O’Connor is encouraged by the way the full-back’s combination with fellow off-season recruits stand-off Brodie Croft, scrum-half Matt Frawley and hooker Andy Ackers is beginning to gel.

“The spine is starting to click a little bit more now,” added the 24-year-old, who has been a substitute in all Leeds’ seven competitive fixtures this year.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“Our plays are starting to come off and we look a lot more dangerous, which is what we’ve been working on.

“Hopefully the longer we keep playing together, it is only going to get better and better.”

Warrington have the same four wins and two defeats record as Rhinos and though Leeds are in buoyant mood following last week’s derby success, O’Connor is expecting a tough tussle.

“They are in a pretty similar position,” he pointed out. “They have started steady, but they’ll obviously want to kick on as well.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“I think this will be another good test to make sure we are going in the right direction and I am pretty confident we’ll get the job done.

“There’s been a lot of close games between us and Warrington and it always makes for an entertaining game. We’ll look to lift the intensity going into it.”

Leeds coach Rohan Smith also feels his team are in for a stern test this evening.

“I am not a table watcher,” Smith insisted. “But it is important to play well, firstly and to get a win this weekend, as it is every week. It is a very tight-fought competition.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“There’s a number of teams on four wins and two defeats and a couple on five and one and a couple not far behind.

“It is a congested competition, which I think most people expected it would be this year.

“It is another chance to test ourselves against one of the form teams of the competition so far so we will be looking forward to improving on last week in some ways and taking some other things from last week forward with us.”

Rhinos produced a performance of two halves in their 26-6 derby win at Castleford, withstanding huge pressure in a scoreless first period and going on to run in four tries after the break.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The defensive effort gave them a platform to build on, but Smith reckons they will need to be at least as good this week.

“It reinforces that we can do it,” he said.

We’ve had the fewest line breaks made against us, we’ve had tries scored from close range and from some kick deflections and some barges, lack of concentration at times, but overall we’ve been difficult to break down.

“That really doesn’t count for anything on Friday. We have got to start again with the same mentality and intensity, be difficult to break down and get that complementary game going where our attack is flowing and that helps our defence and our defence does well and helps our attack.”

Rhinos have won four of their last five meetings with Warrington, but will be without two forwards - prop Justin Sangare (suspended) and second-rower James Bentley (concussion) - from last week's starting team.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Warrington have similar issues, missing suspended pack leader Paul Vaughan along with fellow forwards Joe Philbin and Zane Musgrove after they both failed a head injury assessment in last Saturday’s defeat by Catalans Dragons.

Vaughan, especially, is a big loss, but Smith warned: “They are a strong group.

“They’ve got a very sharp spine who work well together and some quick people on the end of the line. I know they’re missing a couple of their forward pack, but they’ve got a lot of good forwards who are still there.

“They have set the standard at the top of the table, along with a couple of other teams.

“They have been among the leaders so far and we understand there’s a lot of threat across the board, George Williams and Matt Dufty particularly.”