Brad Thorn is delighted that Queensland Reds kingpin James O’Connor is set to re-sign on a new two-year deal because “there’s so much of his story still to write.”
That upbeat take on O’Connor’s future came with a wry Thorn smile because the head coach had just announced taking the captaincy from the most successful skipper in nearly 140 years of Queensland rugby.
“The maths was hard on that one,” a grinning Thorn said of O’Connor’s spotless 7-0 record in charge.
“Maybe, Liam’s a little sheepishly taking back the job. The pressure is on him, right?”
O’Connor was always a fill-in but the past nine weeks have given everyone a valuable extra dimension on which to judge the Wallaby’s transformation.
Thorn has restored the captaincy to Liam Wright now the flanker has proven his fitness after an ankle injury.
Wright’s club hit-out last Saturday for Easts in Brisbane put vital running in his legs for his return to the Reds’ starting side against the Western Force in Perth on Friday night.
“Liam’s been outstanding. Last year he could not have been tested more as a captain during a pandemic,” Thorn said.
“He presents himself so well.
“I think James did a heck of a job driving the team and being the captain.
“As a leader you are serving the team not just your own area of involvement.
“To now think of James staying around for a couple more years is great.”
O’Connor’s own game has grown as he’s involved more players around him. As the likes of Hunter Paisami, Jock Campbell and Jordan Petaia have sharpened as weapons, O’Connor has been savvy enough to skip through holes when the defence has sagged off him at flyhalf.
The story still to be written for O’Connor is the Super Rugby AU final on May 8, more prosperity for the Reds against New Zealand’s best sides and the run to the 2023 Rugby World Cup when he'll still be only 33.
“He’s got his house in order and the only thing he’s being talk about for is rugby. It’s all in a positive light. Isn’t that cool?,” Thorn said.
“We did sit down when James first came to the Reds in 2019 and I told him I didn’t think the narrative about him had to be the way it was.
“Basically, I said ‘I’m with ya’ and I wanted the change for him. It’s a great story because he’s done what he said he’d do.
“There’s lots of exciting things ahead for him...the World Cup and even past that.”
The Reds can't afford to coast into the final, especially with a weekend with no rugby preceding it.
Thorn said sustaining the rage against the Force was not only vital for the Reds but necessary because the team from the west had struck form.
“My guys are wearing the Queensland jersey. They’ve got to front because they know everything is on the line for the Force regarding making the finals,” Thorn warned.
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The Reds are 3-0 on the road this season which is a resilience the side never had before Thorn arrived at Ballymore in 2018. The 2017 Reds were a limp 1-7 on the road.
“It was a tough gig for the Force last year, they’ve persevered and it’s great for rugby in Australia,” Thorn said.
“My guys probably don’t need reminding of how tough this one is going to be because they know the Force have so much experience in their 30-years-plus guys.”
The Western Force will open Anzac Round when they host ladder leaders, the Queensland Reds at HBF Park in Perth on Friday 23 April, ad-free, live and on demand on Stan Sport,click here to purchase tickets.