James O'Connor says it's the first time he's ever felt like part of a team as he sets is sights on the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
Fresh off signing a two-year extension with Rugby Australia and the Queensland Reds, the 30-year-old says he's still a "student of the game" after his late move to five-eighth but aims to be close to the finished product by the World Cup.
It is a position he'd only previously flirted with during a long career until shifted there permanently last season, O'Connor this year adding the captaincy duties to his portfolio when Liam Wright was injured and piloting the Reds to the Super Rugby AU title.
O'Connor scored every point of his side's 19-16 after-the-siren defeat of the Brumbies in the domestic final a fortnight ago.
His form and leadership have seen his stocks rise at RA, O'Connor relishing the selection pressure put on him by Brumbies' young gun Noah Lolesio.
O'Connor raised his eyebrows when told Tim Horan had assumed he would be retired by the time the Wallabies play for the Webb Ellis Cup in France in 2023, playfully chipping the former Queensland and Australian great on stage during a function on Friday.
Back kicking again after an ankle injury forced him to completely remodel his technique, O'Connor is confident he'll be a force as a 33-year-old capable of piloting a World Cup charge.
"Physically I'm getting stronger and the results are saying that," he said.
"I'm still learning; I only started playing 10 in the last year and half, so I'm still a student of the game so that is the goal, the World Cup.
"When I get to that point I'll be as much of a complete player as I can be."
The much-travelled former problem child of Australian rugby said his return to the Reds had struck a chord with him. His response has earned the respect of no-nonsense coach Brad Thorn and his teammates.
"I'm very grateful and excited for what's to come," O'Connor said ahead of the Reds crunch clash with New Zealand champions the Crusaders on Saturday.
"It's the first time I've actually been part of a team; these are my brothers, my county, my state.
"Why would I want to go anywhere else, because it is just the beginning."