James O’Connor’s initial surprise at being told he would captain Queensland in Saturday night’s Super Rugby AU grand final has been replaced by a steely determination to lead the Reds to their first title since 2011.
While it came as a huge shock to outsiders on Wednesday when it was announced that Queensland captain Liam Wright – who had missed of the season with an ankle injury – had been dropped to the bench and that O’Connor would be skipper, the Wallabies skipper had known since last week.
“It was a little surprise but I’ve known for a while now though,” O’Connor said.
“There’s been a team that’s done the job for six, seven weeks, and Liam’s come back from a pretty lengthy injury. We know he’ll do the job coming off the bench for us.
“I’ve got the ‘c’ beside my name (on Saturday night) but when Liam comes on we’ll just got back and forth like we normally do.
“If he’s not on there, then I’ve got other guys as well who I can go back and forth with, It’s not just a one-man job.”
Having been part of the Reds’ side that lost 28-23 to the Brumbies last year, O’Connor is determined to go one better with an improved Reds outfit.
“This’ll be the first silverware that I’ve been a part of on Australian soil,” he said.
“Everyone talks about it as being another game, but it isn’t another game, it’s a final.”
Success isn't given, it's earned – respect the process ? #WeAreQueenslandpic.twitter.com/1g9SL0paFZ
The Reds last won a Super Rugby title in 2011, and O’Connor was thrilled that there was again a rugby “buzz” around in Brisbane that should lead to a crowd of more than 40,000 people at Suncorp Stadium for the decider.
“It’s unreal, it’s what rugby’s about,” he said.
“I feel like we’re going into battle against the other best team … it’ll be good to watch.”
The Reds will start as favourites, having already beaten the Brumbies twice this season.
The Brumbies have been happy to heap the pressure on the Queenslanders this week, with captain Allan Alaalatoa on Friday continuing to place all the expectations on the hosts.
“When you’ve got a home final, played some great footy and beaten us twice, you automatically have that vibe,” Alaalatoa said.
O’Connor dismissed the pre-game banter as “mind games”.
“We respect them, know they’re great outfit but for us, it’s whoever wants it more (on Saturday night),” O’Connor said.
“It’s a final – history doesn’t matter. It’s who’s going to turn up. That’s all we’re thinking about.
“It’ll be a mighty battle but I have a lot of confidence in my men.”
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