Rugby league: O'Connor the punch and duty showman

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The Independent Online
As the bell rings for the second round of the World Club Championship this weekend, no one has better reason to remember the thumping that Britain took in the first than Terry O'Connor.

The Wigan and Great Britain prop was involved in a fist-fight in Brisbane that came close to matching the notoriety of Holyfield-Tyson and Lewis- Akinwande. More solid punches were landed than in either of those bouts, most of them around O'Connor's head by the Brisbane Broncos' Gorden Tallis. "I didn't do too badly with the couple I got in," O'Connor says. "Broke his nose."

O'Connor is looking forward to the rematch at Central Park tonight, but not because he plans to resume hostilities. He admits, however, that he just might have promised Tallis a warm welcome to Wigan. "But it's not about getting square with him," he says. "I just want us to win."

Tallis, who like O'Connor escaped with a sin-binning, has said he is embarrassed by the whole business, especially after he had gone to a school a couple of days later and found the fight was the only thing any of the children wanted to talk about. He is also on a warning from his coach Wayne Bennett not to repeat the exercise.

O'Connor is full of similar good intentions, which is not to say he will be backward in coming forward if trouble does flare. "If we do get a backlash, I'm not going to stand there and let them hit me. I'm not scared of any of their players, just as they're not scared of me. But in this game you can't let people intimidate you."

O'Connor, a thoughtful analyst of the game underneath his prop forward's armoury, makes the point that although Brisbane are associated with backline pyrotechnics, their success is based on a pack that takes them forward. "Everyone expects each season to be Glen Lazarus's last, but he's still a classy player and very good going forward. They have got good players from one to 17. But so have Wigan."

O'Connor is expecting home advantage to prove a big factor tonight. "There is nothing in the game more daunting than a ground full of Wigan supporters," he says. "I still remember from coming to Central Park with Salford that it wasn't a very nice place to be."

But that all depends on the fans getting behind Wigan in a way they have not been doing this season - and they may feel even less inclined to do after successive defeats in London and Paris. O'Connor cannot put his finger on what has gone wrong with form that was gathering momentum before the first phase of the World Club Championship, but dismisses suggestions that they are paying the penalty for internal tensions that built up on the trip to Australia. "The last two weeks have been very disappointing. At London we never got into the game and in Paris it was partly my fault when I gave a vital penalty away.

"Neil Cowie getting sent home from Australia upset everyone because he was a member of the team, but I honestly don't think we are suffering a backlash from that. We had a meeting after Paris but the only thing that really came out of that was we need to talk to each other more on the pitch. It makes such a difference."

It was the talk that Wigan's players heard in Australia that will give them an extra incentive tonight. "They were laughing at the British game, gloating over the results," says O'Connor. "So we won't just be playing for ourselves or for Wigan; we will feel that we have to give the whole game here a lift."

And O'Connor, who claimed after their bout in Brisbane that his wife hits harder than Tallis, has promised to follow his coach's advice when the two men come face to face again tonight. "The way to hurt Gorden Tallis and the rest of the Broncos is to beat them," says Eric Hughes. Plain and simple.