Ben Blaschke, NRL.com
It usually means the body is slowing down when the coach moves you into the front row. Not so Sydney Roosters prop Luke O’Donnell, with the veteran forward claiming he feels rejuvenated since returning to the NRL this season and is ready to go around again in 2014.
O’Donnell joined the Roosters on a one-year deal in February after two years with Huddersfield in England, but although he is yet to enter contract talks with his new club he told NRL.com this week that he was leaning towards continuing.
“At this stage I am, yeah,” he said ahead of Monday night’s blockbuster against Manly. “I haven’t really discussed anything yet so I’ll just wait and see what happens. I’ve just been concentrating on the games every week and hopefully keep playing well and that sort of stuff will look after itself.
“But I feel rejuvenated this season. I’ve been working pretty hard actually to make sure the body is okay – doing a bit of extra stuff to get me to where I want to be. I didn’t have much off-season this year so it was a bit of a slow start for me. I had shoulder surgery as well but now I’m feeling good again.
“It helps too being around such a young squad and winning as well, so all of those things have been really good for me. At my age it’s good to be winning and feeling fresh.”
O’Donnell, who left North Queensland for the English Super League at the end of the 2010 season, hadn’t planned on returning to the NRL but after expressing a desire to bring his young family back to Australia after two years away, the appointment of Trent Robinson as new Roosters coach in 2013 opened the door for his return.
“I’ve been enjoying myself,” he said. “It’s been good to be able to come back to such a good team and a great club like the Roosters. I’ve really enjoyed the time so far.
“It’s like a fresh start for me as well. I never really thought I’d be coming back but when the opportunity arose I jumped at it.
“Although they didn’t do so well the last couple of years I knew [the Roosters] had a good young playing roster here and they definitely under-achieved form what I saw last year so I knew I was coming to a club that was in a healthy state.
“I’ve known Trent for a while too and saw what a good job he did over there at Catalans so after speaking to him I was pretty excited about coming here. I definitely haven’t been let down.”
Asked about his move from second row to prop under Robinson, O’Donnell said: “It’s a new role but it’s been good for me I think.
“It’s definitely different and especially at the start of the year coming off the bench – that took a lot of adjustment but I’m really enjoying starting. It’s not so bad the front row – it’s alright. Very different, but enjoyable.”
The Roosters produced one of their finest performances of the year last week to upset Canterbury 20-18 despite missing Origin stars James Maloney, Mitchell Pearce and Michael Jennings but face another tough outing at Allianz Stadium on Monday night against a Sea Eagles side expected to welcome back star fullback Brett Stewart.
Their task won’t be made any easier by the absence of Maloney, who suffered a fractured cheekbone in NSW’s loss to Queensland on Wednesday night however O’Donnell said the Roosters had taken plenty of confidence out of that performance against the Bulldogs.
“The fact that we played that well without our two main playmakers… to have someone like Daniel Mortimer step up and take control for us was a real positive for the club,” he said. “We had a couple of young guys come in and do really well.
“It was up to us forwards to step up a bit too last week and it was just good to do what we said we were going to do as a team. Hopefully it’s more of the same this week.
“They are always tough games against sides like Manly and this Monday will be another good test for us with the guys backing up after Origin. We need everyone to be on the money. If you have a couple of players off their game they become a very tough team to deal with.”