Lockers edging back to his best

Sean O'Loughlin

Sean O'Loughlin

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WIGAN captain Sean O’Loughlin is confident that both he and England are on course to finish the year on a high.

The tough-tackling loose forward has endured an injury-riddled second half of 2013.

Although he played in both of the Warriors’ trophy-winning finals, it is almost six months since he played three games in a row.

O’Loughlin (pictured) is set to achieve that minor feat on his home ground when England play either France or Samoa in the quarter-finals at the DW Stadium on Saturday night.

The Achilles injury that restricted O’Loughlin to a solitary Super League play-off fixture – the Grand Final at Old Trafford – kept him out of England’s opening World Cup game against Australia.

But he recovered in time to play key roles in the wins over Ireland and Fiji that earned Steve McNamara’s men the runners-up spot in Group A.

“I’m still probably chasing a little bit of match fitness but I felt better in that game (on Saturday) than I did in the Ireland game,” he said.

“That was probably a bit more physical and intense than the Ireland game and hopefully that will serve me well going into next weekend if I’m involved.”

Although England trailed 6-0 to the Fijians and were level at half-time, they cut loose early in the second half and eventually ran out comfortable 34-12 winners and O’Loughlin believes it puts them in an ideal position going into the knockout stages.

“I think there were groans and moans at us coming in at half-time level but we expected a tough battle. We were confident we could get the win but we knew it wasn’t going to come early,” he said.

“We were going to have to do the tough physical work to get on top of them before some of the boys put the skill on to get the tries.

“I think we’re in good shape. There’s a lot of competition for spots still, I don’t think anyone feels comfortable that they’re going to be in the team next week.

“There is a lot of pressure on us to play well and that’s a good position to be in. Steve Mac has got a few tough decisions to make.”

One man guaranteed his spot is South Sydney forward Sam Burgess, who produced a man-of-the-match performance against Fiji on his return from suspension.

“He’s a world-class player,” said O’Loughlin. “He has a real good presence on the field.

“He carries the ball strong. He’s a big bloke but he’s got a lot of skill and offloads about him. He doesn’t just do the hard work, he creates a lot of stuff.

“If he doesn’t get the offload, he plays the ball quicker so we can get something off the next play. He’s definitely going to be a important part of us going on in the competition.”

Meanwhile, O’Loughlin is relishing the prospect of playing for his country in his home town, where he could be joined by as many as five of his Wigan team-mates in Josh Charnley, Lee Mossop, Liam Farrell, Lee Mossop and the Auckland-bound Sam Tomkins, who will get the chance for one last run-out at the DW Stadium.

“It will be good to get back there and play an international,” O’Loughlin added. “I think I made my debut there.

“It will be Sam’s last game and I’m guessing he’s happy to get another shot at playing there. It’s a great stadium to play at whether you are a Wigan player or not.”

Warrington second rower Ben Westwood has been cleared to play in Saturday’s match after being put on report for alleged use of his forearm during the game against Fiji.

An international match-review panel ruled he had no case to answer.

ends