Sean O’Loughlin this week is set to make his 400th appearance for Wigan, only the 10th player in Wigan’s history to achieve the milestone. He joins Jim Sullivan, Ken Gee, Ernie Ashcroft, Eric Ashton, Billy Boston, Shaun Edwards, Jack Cunliffe, Colin Clarke and Brian McTigue in making 400 appearances for the club. He is still 375 appearances off Jim Sullivan’s record 774 games for Wigan! Nonetheless, what a great group of players and Wigan legends to be associated with, many of whom are hall of fame members for Wigan and who could deny Sean O’Loughlin that privilege also, in a few years’ time when he does finally decide to hang his boots up.
O’Loughlin made his Wigan debut in Super League 7, the 2002 season against Hull FC. A game that fell a week before Wigan’s Challenge Cup Semi Final against Castleford, a competition that they would ultimately win that year. O’Loughlin made his debut from the bench in a game which saw the likes of the late Steve Prescott and Terry Newton play. A Wigan side that also included, Kris Radlinski, Brett Dallas and Adrian Lam.
O’Loughlin would go on to make a total of 21 appearances in his debut season, scoring four tries.
O’Loughlin had the unenviable task of replacing his brother-in-law, Andy Farrell as the club captain for Wigan. A task which was given to him in 2006 by Ian Millward in probably the most difficult season O’Loughlin has experienced playing for Wigan. Relegation that season was somehow avoided by Wigan winning ten from their final twelve games. At the time, many suggested that O’Loughlin was too young at 24 to be the Wigan captain or that he lacked the type of leadership required. O’Loughlin wasn’t the same type of captain as Farrell was, the picture of Farrell giving his side a good shouting at behind the sticks after conceding a try was perhaps the type of leadership many had come to expect and because O’Loughlin wasn’t that time of leader – perhaps he got some unfair criticism at the time. O’Loughlin developed into a leader over the next few years, ultimately to become Wigan’s much successful Super League era captain. O’Loughlin’s style of leadership has been very much a case of leading by example, he’s no shrinking violet, but you get the impression O’Loughlin prefers to lead by setting the standard for his team mates to follow – and what a standard that has been.
O’Loughlin’s leadership was aided and developed further during Michael Maguire’s tenure at the club, Maguire scrapped the idea of a club captain – replacing this with a leadership team of which O’Loughlin was a member of. O’Loughlin was ultimately rewarded with captaining the side in 2010 Grand Final victory and then returning to captain the side on a fulltime basis in 2011, with the assistance of a leadership team.
Now the captain of the England national side, O’Loughlin’s leadership is not in doubt, the development since that initial season as captain in 2006 has been remarkable. A true leader that had to learn his role in the most difficult of seasons and with the adding strain of being the player to replace Andy Farrell both in a positional sense and as the club captain.
O’Loughlin has consistently been remarked on as a player that seemingly earns respect in both the Northern Hemisphere and the Southern Hemisphere, a rare accolade for an English player. Players like Pat Richards and Ryan Hoffman often tipped O’Loughlin as the one English player they believed would have been a hit in the NRL if he ever plied his trade in Australia. He is certainly a player who seems to have the respect of Australian opposition whenever he comes up against them, O’Loughlin also has the rare achievement of having been part of a Great Britain side to have beaten Australia in Sydney in 2006.
How will O’Loughlin be remembered whenever he does decide to hang up his boots? An uncompromising playmaker of a loose forward would be my description. There are very few players that can tackle like O’Loughlin, pass like O’Loughlin and make decisions like him. Even his kicking is all right (see his kick for Joe Burgess last minute try against Warrington at Magic Weekend this year!). O’Loughlin has a bit of everything to his game which is probably what makes him so invaluable to Wigan, it has been noted by many this season that when O’Loughlin is benched for a spell, Wigan’s performances dip – a real issue that they need to resolve and something that has happened too often to be a coincidence. O’Loughlin has probably, realistically got another season and a half playing at the current level before moving into a coaching role at Wigan, something that Wigan were keen to put in his last contract – and why not! He could retire a World Cup winning England captain – what a fitting way to go into his probable last season in 2018.
Earlier in the year, we ran a poll for readers to vote for their greatest Super League Era Wigan XIII. We deliberately made the choice for the number 13 role difficult, it was a straight vote for Andy Farrell or Sean O’Loughlin. Lots of people commented that if there was a way of getting them both in the side, then they would have voted that way. There is no denying O’Loughlin’s talent or the fact that whenever he does retire, he will be regarding as a true Wigan legend.
400 games in, 3 Super League titles, 2 Challenge Cups, a World Club Challenge, 11 Great Britain Caps, 21 England Caps.
A true Wigan great who still has plenty more to come and hopefully, more trophies to lift as Wigan captain.
THAT pass to Sarginson …