Liam O’Connor’s ‘heroic 0 not out’ saves WA in Sheffield Shield thriller


Number 11 batsman Liam O’Connor has pulled off one of the more incredible escapes the Sheffield Shield has seen as the clash between Western Australia and South Australia went down to the final ball.

With one wicket left with just under four overs remaining after four days of action, the game literally went down to the final ball.

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The final day of the clash at the WACA was all about batting out the day for Western Australia with Hilton Cartwright batting out 122 balls for 25 with a back injury, while Cameron Gannon ended on 13 not out off 65 balls.

But neither man was the real hero as Gannon watched in despair as the final ball of the penultimate over ran away for four.

It mean O’Connor, the 27-year-old leg spinner who had failed to score in four first class innings, a one-day match and had seven runs with a highest score of 2 in T20 cricket, had to face the final over against one-Test player Chadd Sayers.

O’Connor saw off first five balls as the field came right in with the final ball seeing nearly every South Australian player in slips or in close to the bat.

Sayers came in with a good length ball and the ball popped up in the air, but fell just short of the point fielder.

“He survived, Liam O’Connor has done it for Western Australia,” the commentator said. “A heroic 0 not out, it popped up in the air agonisingly.”

It meant Western Australia had survived for the draw, coming after a sporting declaration in the first innings.

Chasing 8/510 on the back of South Australia’s Aussie star Travis Head hitting 223, Western Australia declared at 5/409, despite Cameron Green being not out for 168.

South Australia hit 9/230 before declaring with Alex Carey on 82 not out, setting Western Australia 332 to win.

Western Australia were never really in the hunt to chase down the score and dropped anchor.

But the late wickets sent it right down to the wire in an absorbing finish to the match.

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James O’Connor’s blunt message for star Queensland Reds recruit Suliasi Vunivalu


For Vunivalu, returning to rugby after featuring in Melbourne’s 2017 and 2020 NRL premierships was a matter of attending to “unfinished business”.

“I’ve done my time in rugby league and I’ve achieved what I wanted to achieve. It’s something different, a new challenge and I’m looking forward to it,” he said.

When Vunivalu speaks about unfinished business, he’s referring to childhood dreams ignited by the England team which won the 2003 Rugby World Cup on Australian soil.

Despite being born and raised in Fiji before moving to New Zealand as a 16-year-old, it was fellow cross-code star Jason Robinson who Vunivalu wanted to emulate as a child.

Like Robinson, Vunivalu wants to dominate on the international stage. But before he can worry about Wallabies duties, he has a pre-season under Reds coach Brad Thorn to work through.

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That shouldn’t be too much of a mountain to climb, given Storm coach Craig Bellamy is notorious for running the hardest pre-seasons in the NRL.

“Storm’s [pre-seasons] are really tough but it’s a different sport. We focus more on ruck speed and all of that (at the Reds),” Vunivalu said. “You have stop-start. League is pretty much full on. Training wise, it’s hard but it’s a different sport.”

Vunivalu spent about one month with the Wallabies squad as they completed their Tri Nations campaign at the end of last year.

The 25-year-old was never a hope of making his Test debut at the end of last year. He was brought in simply to begin the process of transitioning from rugby league back to rugby – a sport he dominated as a star schoolboy for famous New Zealand nursery St Kentigern’s College.

The best player in recent years to have made the transition from rugby league winger to rugby winger is a fellow Fijian who followed the same path from the Storm to the national side – Marika Koroibete.

“That’s what I did when I went into Wallabies camp – I was just watching how he positioned himself,” Vunivalu said. “He’s everywhere around the field. He’s got a good engine. I need to work on mine.

“That was really good. My focus going into that camp was just trying to get rugby back into me so when I started here at the Reds, I knew a couple of things rather than coming here and starting all over again.

“That was helpful for me and I got a big focus on the work ons I need to improve.”

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James O’Connor’s Wallabies return leaves Dave Rennie with Reece Hodge selection headache


“Being an older player now, you put a lot of work into your body off the field and you just want to do the little things right.

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“I came into this campaign and I was given a lot of responsibility and I was very happy with how my game was moving forward and my game was progressing and how we were growing as a team.

“To be cut short and forced to watch from the sidelines, it was very tough.”

O’Connor’s calming presence was sorely missed in the record breaking loss to the All Blacks in Sydney – when untried debutant Noah Lolesio started at five-eighth – but in the fortnight since, Reece Hodge has done an admirable job at No.10.

In O’Connor’s eyes, the Rebels star has done enough to earn a start elsewhere in the backline.

“I think he’s definitely earned his spot and [should] stay there [in the starting XV],” O’Connor said.

“I’m not a selector so I won’t be pretending where I would put him but I have my ideas and we will see where that plays off. He definitely deserves to be out on the field somewhere.

“In saying that, we still have some really damaging centres that have been doing a really good job for us and the back three as well.

“I’m happy I don’t have to make that decision.”

The makeup of the Wallabies backline is certainly a conundrum for Rennie.

Hunter Paisami has started to built a powerful pairing with Jordan Petaia in the centres and while the Wallabies started their campaign viewing Hodge as a centre – or a back-up five-eighth – the one position Rennie has not been able to find the right man for is fullback.

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Tom Banks hasn’t set the world on fire and Hodge’s top notch form at No.10 – as well as his reliable strike rate off the kicking tee – could prove valuable against an Argentinian side that seeks to turn every Test into an arm wrestle.

Whether Rennie opts to keep Hodge in his starting XV remains to be seen but O’Connor isn’t expecting an enormous overhaul, despite the Tri Nations trophy now being all but out of reach.

“We’re taking this game as a must win game for us,” he said. “It’s very important for our campaign moving forward and for moving forward as a group.

“We’ve spoken about it a lot. It’s not just about finishing the year in this way.

“It’s almost about spring-boarding us into this whole campaign.

“It’s been a huge year for us with COVID, coming together, new coaches, new group, and I think one thing we haven’t spoken about a lot is there has been huge growth – off the field and on the field.

“Now it’s just about transferring it and those little margins – ticking the scoreboard over.”

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