I did this interview with Wigan captain, Sean O’Loughlin, in 2008 for the League Express series ‘My Life in Rugby League’. O’Loughlin is now one of the Wigan five-man leadership team and lifted the Super League trophy at Old Trafford in 2010, as they ended their eight-year trophy drought.
What do you remember of your father’s career?
Not too much to be honest. I remember going to games but because I was so young I didn’t really take much in. But I’ve seen what he did on video and I’ve seen his Wembley try a few times! He was a big influence on me taking up the game, of course, and a lot of my family played rugby. It was always on the cards that I’d play I suppose.
When did you start?
I was about nine. I played for [Wigan] St Pats throughout my amateur career and they were a great club to be at, being such a hotbed of local talent. I signed for Wigan at 16, when I was coming to the end of my schooldays. Ged Byrne was the Academy coach at the time and then I progressed to the Under-21s where I was coached by Billy McGinty. Frank Endacott was the first team coach and it was pretty intimidating for a young bloke to be at a club like Wigan because I’d grown up watching them and some of those players were still playing.
One of them being Andrew Farrell, your brother-in-law.
Yes, that’s right. He married my sister when I was young so I’ve known him a long time. He was a role model, not just for me but the other Academy players too but because I knew him outside of rugby, he definitely had a positive influence on me.
What do you remember of the 2001 Academy tour down under?
It was a great tour and a lot of the players went on to play Super League. We were far too good for New Zealand and that was the first time we’d turned them over in a long while and we also pushed the Aussies close in Brisbane. The following year’s team then went on to beat them.
You made your first-team debut in 2002?
I played a lot of that year coming off the bench. We won the Challenge Cup but I didn’t play in that or any of the other Cup games. I travelled up to Murrayfield as 18th or 19th man with Steve Wild and there was a chance one of us could play because Kris (Radlinski) had a foot infection. But he played and won the Lance Todd! I wasn’t that disappointed though because I hadn’t played in those earlier rounds but I was pleased with how I went in Super League. We had a lot of injuries that year and myself, Steve and Luke Robinson made debuts. I played pre-season against Hull in Andrew’s testimonial and then also played against them in my Super League debut off the bench although I can’t remember too much about it apart from being absolutely knackered at the end! It was a lot faster than what I was used to.
In 2003 you captained England ‘A’ and nearly turned over the touring Aussies.
Yeah, that was a great game. I’d played for England ‘A’ in 2002 against the Kiwis but against the Kangaroos we pushed them really close and only lost 26-22 with John Kear coaching us. It capped off a good year because I started most of the Super League games and we got to Old Trafford after Greg (Mike Gregory) took over as coach. I don’t score many tries but I got two against Leeds in the semi-final; a game best known for Brian Carney’s tries. The final is a bit of a blur and I don’t remember too much about it. Danny Tickle put us ahead but the Bulls were too good for us.
What was Mike like as a coach?
He was brilliant. He took us on the 2001 Academy tour so I knew him from that and I was made up when he took over at Wigan. He had the respect of everybody and I’m sure that he’d have gone on to be one of the best coaches.
How emotional an occasion was the 2004 Challenge Cup final, which you knew would be his last game?
It was a bit but Mike played that side of it down. It was still there though because we knew what was happening but we had a job to do and that’s what we were focused on.
At the end of that season, you played for Great Britain and gained a lot of praise for your performance against Australia at Wigan.
That was my debut and obviously one of my career highlights. I was due to play in the first game against the Aussies in Manchester but got ill and then I didn’t get picked against New Zealand in Huddersfield. So the Wigan game was my first and I came off the bench. I only played 15 or 20 minutes but it was a real buzz, especially as we won the game. The final wasn’t so good though. I came off the bench at half-time and we were already 38-0 down!
Wigan lost a lot of experienced players at that point. Was that why you struggled badly in 2005?
We lost about five I think. Andrew, Adrian Lam, Terry O’Connor, Mick Cass and Craig Smith all went and they were all senior players and when so many leave together it creates a huge void. So yes, we struggled in 2005 as a result but we also had a lot of injuries. I played seven games that year and did my knee, which ruled me out of the season. Ian Millward had come in by then but I wasn’t involved in the day to day side because I was recovering from my injury.
Are players apprehensive when they return from bad injuries like that?
Well I was but luckily I’d done it early enough in 2005 that I had time to recover properly without being rushed back. There was no chance I could play at the end of 2005 so I could take my time and get it totally right so that by the time 2006 began, I had a lot more confidence in it. I was still nervous though and was relieved to get through the first few games.
How do you look back on 2006?
It was a crazy year! I don’t ever want to be involved in a year like that again but, even so, it was one of the most exciting years I’ve known. With the threat of relegation over us, every game was like a final. We made a shocking start and it just went on and on but fortunately we managed to turn it round. At the end we were playing some great stuff.
How do you look back on Millward’s time as coach?
He had a good crack at it but a lot of things didn’t go his way. There were a lot of injuries and we were in a big transitional period. He was a good bloke and I was disappointed to see him go. You don’t like to see coaches go like that because you tend to become friends with them. But Brian came in which has been great for the club and, to be honest, it was a big kick up the backside for us all. We’d seen Ian sacked and we realised we could follow him if we didn’t shape up. Brian ripped into our defence and had us conceding less and less points. He’s definitely turned things round.
How exciting was last season’s play-off series?
Well it started with us having to win our final league games, including the one against Saints, for us to get into the six. There was no pressure on us and we worked our socks off for each other. The experience of those play-offs can benefit us this year, especially the younger blokes.
How good is Trent Barrett?
Awesome! But he also does a lot of things that people don’t notice. When he plays well, we play well.
So are you a one-man team?
Of course not. We’ve got a good enough side that when he doesn’t play well, we can still win. It’s understandable that people think that because he’s so good but it doesn’t bother us. He’s a great bloke and we’re glad he’s here.