James O’Connor wants to do more damage with his boot and it could have direct spin-offs for Suliasi Vunivalu as the former NRL winger eyes a belated Super Rugby AU debut for the Queensland Reds.
The two-time NRL premiership wide man missed the Reds’ 41-7 defeat of the NSW Waratahs on Friday after he was stood down by the club following an altercation with a hotel security guard that saw him charged with common assault.
Expected to find a spot in a stacked backline, or at least come off the bench, to face the Rebels at Suncorp Stadium, Vunivalu stands to benefit as O’Connor works another dimension into his game.
The Wallabies No.10 admitted he needed to improve his in-game kicking and is keen to better exploit the 22/50 or 50/22 kicking rule brought in last season that offers possession back to the team that can execute the kick.
“That’s been a big development to get our team on the front foot in all areas,” O’Connor said of his intent to kick.
“I broke through the fundamentals with (internationally renowned kicking coach) Dave Alred, but now it’s about spotting space and identifying and putting the right kick in at the right time.”
The 50/22 came off once against the Waratahs and led to a try while another came close, and two cross-field bombs to flying wingers ensured defenders had to be wary of balls being kicked in behind them.
With a Wallabies-laden backline and a ball-playing back row that enjoys space to run, O’Connor knows even the threat of a kick can be used to the Reds’ advantage.
“That’s the whole point of these new rules; to open the play up and create quicker footy,” O’Connor said.
“It’s what fans want to see and what we want to play, and teams know we want to throw the ball around, so if they do want to bring players to the front line we can look for corners, short kicks and space behind.”
Vunivalu and O’Connor had already spent time together in Wallabies camp when the Melbourne Storm flyer was invited soon after his NRL grand final heroics.
He told media on his arrival at Ballymore a few months later that O’Connor had advised him to “stay on his hip”, but the No.10 said it had not played out that way at all.
“He actually came up to me and said ‘what do you need from me?’,” O’Connor said.
“We had a coffee and a chat (when he arrived in Wallabies camp); he’s very inquisitive, picks up detail quickly, which is great.
“I just said ‘this is the basics of what I need’ and if he can master that straight away our connection will build just like it was able to with Lipo (fellow Wallabies winger Filipo Daugunu last year).”