A century of Super Rugby matches was a milestone Wallabies flyhalf James O’Connor doubted he would reach.
Forced to ply his trade overseas on more than one occasion in his previously wayward career, O’Connor was almost ready to call it quits a few years ago.
That was until his beloved Queensland Reds came calling to bring him home from the UK in 2019 after a two-year stint with the Sale Sharks.
“For a big part of my career I didn’t think I’d be able to get back home to Australia,” said Queensland co-captain O’Connor, who will chalk up 100 Super Rugby appearances when the Reds host Auckland’s Blues at Suncorp Stadium on Friday night.
“I’ve made it pretty open that I was going to give it one last shot, and the thought of retirement definitely played on my mind.
“But I put my head down, got to work, and I’m back here, enjoying the fruits of my labour, and just really enjoying being a part of this group.
“There’s a lot of great energy. I really enjoy the way the coaches work, and my role in this team and I’m thoroughly enjoying it.”
O’Connor said it was the “icing on the cake” for his milestone match to be at Suncorp Stadium – and for the Reds – after making his first Super Rugby appearance against Queensland as a 17-year-old for the Western Force in 2008.
“I came on with about 20 minutes to go and probably made about four errors. I tried to forget that one pretty quick,” he said.
“When I was younger it was about chasing the next thing, the next milestone, getting to the weekend to play the next game – it was always about chasing pleasure.”
However, a matured O’Connor said he now enjoyed the “smaller moments in life” and urged younger players to “take your time” and “enjoy the process”.
“It’s not just always about the outcome,” he said.
However, O’Connor wants the “outcome” of Friday’s Super Rugby Trans-Tasman battle with the Blues to be a Reds win after the Queenslanders became the first Australian team to record a victory in the new competition with a 40-34 weekend triumph over the Chiefs.
“It’s a very different dynamic the way Kiwis play and it probably took us a bit longer for us to adapt to it” he said.
“We’re playing our Reds’ style of rugby. We’re getting pushed to the next level, which is what we want. For us this weekend, it’s another step up.”