NEVER mind the ridicule. So long as James O’Connor feels healthy the haircut stays.

”At times I’ve wanted to shave it off and get rid of it but I’m in a good space … sort of like Samson,” the Melbourne Rebels star jokes of the top knot that is earning him plenty of grief from teammates.

O’Connor is contemplating having his locks lopped for a good cause, but he can already claim he has paid his dues after last year’s nightmare.

As if watching the Rebels struggle through last year’s Super Rugby season while being unable to overcome hamstring problems was not enough, one of Australia’s best young players also had to decline a Wallabies tour, gifting club teammate Kurtley Beale the chance to shine as five-eighth.

O’Connor could have toured Europe, but ruled himself out to regain full fitness for this year. That he is now fitter, stronger, faster and looks like a coiled spring as he awaits the chance to play again proves sitting out the Wallabies tour was wise, although he admitted on Friday doing so was one of the hardest decisions he had ever made.

”That’s the pinnacle of the game, that’s why you play,” he said.

”But for me, I’m 22, if I’d torn my hammy straight after that it would have been surgery and possibly out for a year. This is the time I want to be improving as a player and hitting my peak, these next few years.

”It was a big sacrifice. You never know how many Tests you’re going to get and how many chances with the Wallabies and there’s definitely boys in my position who have stepped up this [past] year, but I want to play Super Rugby and hopefully my performances get me back in the [national] team.”

O’Connor wants to play so badly he needs to be pulled in at training. He beams at the thought of starting a new season against his old side, the Western Force, on February 15, and feels stronger for overcoming his injury frustrations. The club’s medical staff had traced his hamstring problems back to a liver laceration he suffered last year, when he was kneed in the side during a tackle. He could not overcome a hamstring injury that followed because his body could not get rid of all its acidity.

Winter meant early-morning rehab sessions. He started yoga, Pilates and meditation with Tibetan singing bowls – a ”hippie thing” introduced to him by teammate and room-mate James King.

O’Connor is off contract this season, but said he was loving life ”under the radar” in Melbourne and keen to emulate the success rugby league counterparts at the Storm have built in AFL territory. He was also keen to raise the internal competition with Beale in a bid to reclaim the five-eighth role.

”It’s a position I like to play, I like to control the game … I see it as a win-win. Kurtley’s come back from a Wallabies tour and a full year as the Wallabies’ 10 so I guess he’s got the background there. So it would be more me knocking him out of that position.”

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.