Talking RL: Why O'Loughlin is still a reluctant star

'Phil, Lockers didn't like what you put in the paper...'

Thursday, 13th July 2017, 12:11 pm
Updated Tuesday, 18th July 2017, 8:31 am
Sean O'Loughlin is comfortable in front of the camera, but doesn't crave attention
Sean O'Loughlin is comfortable in front of the camera, but doesn't crave attention

If I remember it right - and I think I do - Luke Robinson looked worried as he delivered the line outside the changing room.

Worried, for my sake.

Only thing is, I couldn’t remember what I’d written about Wigan’s curly-haired rising star.

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“What didn’t he like?” I asked.

“That bit about him looking like Screech from ‘Saved by The Bell’.”

“But you wrote that,” I pointed out.

Which was true - Robinson had kindly taken the micky out of each and every one of his team-mates in a light-hearted feature in a pre-season supplement.

Sean O'Loughlin... minus his curly locks

“I know, I know,” he said. “But Lockers was going off about it... so I said you wrote it!”

Looking back, I imagine Robinson was pulling my leg.

Because before and since then, I’ve never known O’Loughlin to get flustered about anything.

His calmness and class have always been hallmarks of his astonishing career, which will see him chalk off his 400th appearance for Wigan tonight - 15 years after coming through into a star-studded side.

Sean O'Loughlin... minus his curly locks

“I remember,” Adrian Lam later recalled. “After my first game playing alongside him, I turned to Andy Farrell and said, ‘This kid is the real deal’.”

The real deal indeed, and over the years, O’Loughlin has garnered plenty of sincere acclaim by those who know the game best; the players and coaches.

“I would put Sean among the top-five blokes I’ve played with,” said Ryan Hoffman, shortly after ending his Wigan; this from a bloke who had spent his career alongside Greg Inglis, Billy Slater and Cameron Smith.

For anyone to reach 400 games with one club, in the modern era – with fewer games – is an incredible achievement.

For O’Loughlin, it’s made even more remarkable by the way he plays! It’s not as if he’s a hooker with a love for passive tackling, or a half afraid of being tackled; he’s aggressive, full-on and confrontational. And until recently, he was playing big minutes in each game.

O’Loughlin’s quality is hard to quantify with statistics. His highlights reel is packed with cut-out passes and more big hits than a Bon Jovi CD.

But above all that, he has a presence. An influence on his team-mates which makes them better.

The phrase ‘It’s hard to get to the top, even harder to stay there’ has become a sporting cliche, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

And the fact O’Loughlin, at 34, has still been chosen as captain of his country - in a World Cup year, by a coach who knows a thing or two about top-players - sums up his enduring quality.

Not that you’d know it by talking to him.

He is modest, humble, stripped of ego.

After his debut in 2002 - against Hull FC - I started my match report: ‘Among the enterprise of Jason Smith and the finishing finesse of Brett Dallas, a reluctant star announced himself last Friday night.’

That reluctant star was O’Loughlin.

He’s gone on to enjoy a brilliant career but, in many way, he’s still a reluctant star. He’s comfortable with the attention, but he doesn’t crave it.

My colleague Paul Kendrick runs the Joseph’s Goal charity, and says O’Loughlin selflessly helps out when he’s asked. Nothing is ever too much trouble, and he doesn’t do it for the plaudits.

Indeed, in a week which has - rightly - focused on his remarkable rugby league career, O’Loughlin has posted only one thing on social media - a thank-you to everyone on Wigan Infirmary’s Rainbow Ward for looking after his daughter when she broke her arm.

Sometimes, silence speaks volumes about a person.

I wish Warrington’s Andre Savelio the best of luck in the NRL next year.

I like seeing players from over here do well over there.

I wouldn’t be surprised if he arrived with high-expectations on his shoulders, judging by the way his move to Brisbane has been reported.

The Broncos were slightly mischievous, tweeting: the “confirmation of an international signing, @AndreSavelio”

Any NRL fan reading that may think he is an England international, and he’s not. At least, he’s not been since a junior.

But the most amused was a tweet by Triple M radio – embedded in this story, above – which reported the Broncos “confirm signing of player described as next ‘Sonny Bill Williams’.”

Savelio, really?

Maybe, I thought, they’ve also signed a Kiwi forward.

Intrigued, I clicked on the link, to find out. The story starts: “The Brisbane Broncos have won the race to sign the next Sonny Bill Williams. His name is Andre Savelio...”

So it is him, then. Now who had compared the Warrington and ex-St Helens forward to the dual-code New Zealand superstar?

I read on.

And there, in the final line of the story, the website reported: “As you can see in the video below, he has a helluva lot on common with SBW - he’s big, strong, skilful and runs hard.”

So, there we have it!

No-one has compared him to SBW but themselves... and then they reported he has been “described” as next SBW! Unbelievable.

The subject of respecting referees has again reared its head after a fan hurled an object at James Child following Salford’s 50-24 loss to Leeds.

Thankfully, the Red Devils have vowed to ban the supporter for life.

Refs seem to be in the spotlight a lot this year; if not about respecting the officials, then the standard of their performances.

Regular readers will know my stance on it. I’d rather risk injury and massive embarrassment by playing a game, than refereeing it, so I avoid criticising them.

They may make mistakes, but they’re honest ones.

Of all the views on referees I heard, I wish everyone - players, coaches and fans - thought more like Anthony Gelling.

“If a game is that close it’s going to be decided by one decision, then you’ve not done enough to win it,” he said. “If the other team is over your tryline and putting the ball down, how can you complain about a dubious knock-on?”

Amen to that.