Taking a mid-year break for Tests the right step, says O’Loughlin

Sean O'Loughlin has had a whirlwind two weeks
Sean O'Loughlin has had a whirlwind two weeks

Sean O’Loughlin believes taking a break from Super League to accommodate mid-season internationals would be the right step forward.

The Wigan skipper has returned from a “whirlwind” trip to Sydney where he guided England to a 30-10 victory over Samoa.

He missed the Warriors’ game with Salford due to Test duty and Warrington, St Helens, Leeds, Castleford and Hull FC also had some of their best players away.

The Rugby League International Federation has approved a “dedicated mid-season international weekend, giving nations an opportunity to participate in a co-ordinated suite of fixtures”.

It is still unclear what format Super League will operate next year - the Super-8s model was always going to be reviewed this year, the third under the format.

But whatever the competition structure, clubs will discuss whether to include a weekend off in mid-season for the internationals.

And England skipper O’Loughlin said: “We got a lot out of the Test with Samoa.

“It was always going to be tough, with the travel and the quality of opposition, we handled it well and we got a lot from it.

“I think it’s good to have a mid-season Test, the travel throws everyone together.

“On the other side of it, to look after the clubs, they don’t want to be missing players for games. The NRL had a week off and it would be great if we could do that.”

O’Loughlin caught up with former Wigan team-mates Pat Richards, Shane Millard and Michael Withers, and former assistant coach Andrew Farrar, during his week away.

He has returned nursing a calf injury but is hopeful of playing in Sunday’s Challenge Cup match at Swinton.

“It’s nothing major, I’ll see how I go at the end of the week. I’m doing everything I can to play,” said the 34-year-old.

The RLIF also revealed midweek the return of a Great Britain tour in 2019.

O’Loughlin was in the last GB side in 2007 before the banner was shelved, and welcomed its return - even if just for tours on a four-year cycle.

“Now we’ve gone to the home nations, I think using it like rugby union does with the Lions, getting together every four years or so for a tour, would be good.”

Of course, touring as Great Britain would only be a nostalgic name-change unless players outside of the England set-up make the squad.

Wigan’s Ben Flower and St Helens winger Regan Grace are proud Welshmen, and could be in the frame, while Scotland coach Steve McCormack says he “100 per cent” has players who would go into the mix.

Many of the Bravehearts’ best players are English - including Warriors winger Lewis Tierney - and would therefore be eligible for England anyway. But the revival of Great Britain raises the prospect of Australian-born players such as highly-rated Kane Linnett, Euan Aitken and Lachlan Coote touring with the Lions.

McCormack, Wigan’s welfare officer, said: “It would be unfair to name them, but we’ve got some players who are passionate about playing for Scotland who are performing at the highest level in Super League or the NRL, and would fit into a Lions team no problem.

“We showed in the Four Nations we have some quality players.

“I think the idea of a Lions tour is long overdue, and it wouldn’t devalue what Scotland does, if anything it adds to it.”

From a personal point of view, Wiganer McCormack will be glad to see Great Britain back on the agenda.

“I grew up supporting Great Britain - in 1992, I was lucky enough to be a supporter on that tour with my dad,” he reminisced. “I was only 15, but I was at Melbourne for the win against Australia and it was a brilliant trip.

“Andy Farrell was my next door neighbour growing up, so I was brought up with him and watched him making it into the GB squad, so I have a lot of good memories of Great Britain.”