Sean O'Loughlin's hopes for his final season with Wigan Warriors
A generation of Wigan supporters will not remember a Warriors side without Sean O’Loughlin.
But the England skipper, who turns 38 in November, is preparing for one last season before hanging up his boots and moving into the coaching ranks.
And he’ll have the benefit of a first full pre-season in years – free from injury and Test commitments – to prepare his body for one last hurrah.
“I’m looking forward to the season probably even more so having had a full pre-season,” O’Loughlin acknowledged.
“It’s been good to be in right from the start, with all the young lads.
“In previous years, you’re only really involved from the start of December, but this time I’ve been in since day dot.
“And I’ve found it good, physically, to get a few more weeks of work into the body. My pre-season probably differs from the rest of the lads, there’s bits I haven’t done on the field, and then catch up in the gym, and vice versa.
“But I’ve very much enjoyed it so far, and hopefully it’s a big year ahead.”
Much will inevitably be made of it being O’Loughlin’s last season, but typically the man himself isn’t keen to make a fuss.
“I’ve not really given it too much thought to be honest,” he said.
“I’m just enjoying the pre-season, then I’ll enjoy the season, and that’s it.
“I don’t want to make it about my last season, I want to try and make it like any other.
“I don’t want to make it like ‘This is the last time I’ll be playing at Castleford, or St Helens’, and so on.
“I just want to enjoy the year and see where it takes us.”
With the benefit of a full pre-season behind him – and his clear dedication to his craft – there’s obviously an elephant in the room.
What happens if he’s playing well and feeling good towards the end of the year... would be consider a sensational retirement U-turn?
“I wouldn’t rule it out,” smiles O’Loughlin. “But these last couple years, finishing the season and not having a contract... it’s been a little bit tough for me. Knowing I’d probably get one, but the circumstances haven’t already been great.
“This season, it has been kind of ‘Yes, this one will be my last’. I’m sure that could change at some point but, as things stand now, I just want to have a good season and finish on a high.
“And then I’ll get to the end of the year knowing I’ll be moving on to the next position, whatever that may be.”
Having been there and done it all over the last two decades, O’Loughlin already has a jam-packed trophy cabinet.
But he’s hoping to make room for at least one more medal before calling it a day.
“It’s been a while since we won a Challenge Cup, and that would be fantastic,” O’Loughlin added.
“But at the start of the year, you want to go for everything.
“Looking back on my career, the highlight was probably the Grand Final of 2010 – the first one. It would be great to do that again, but I just want to get my hands on any silverware to be honest.”
While O’Loughlin’s presence ensures continuity in the camp, there’s a host of new signings to further whet the appetite for 2020. But O’Loughlin believes the squad will be bolstered even more by a few players already on the books.
“The team as a whole is very similar to last year,” he said.
“Then there’s some key positions where we have strengthened with very good additions – obviously Jackson (Hastings) in the halves, George (Burgess) in the front row.
“But I always think the difference in squad from year to year isn’t always the new lads, it’s sometimes the development at the other end of the squad as well.
“Morgan (Smithies), Ollie P (Partington), Ethan (Havard), those boys...they’re all a year older and physically a year bigger.
“That experience from last year will stand them in good stead, they’ll now be pushing for starting spots and they become like new players as well.
“It’s not always the top end of the squad where you get strengthened, but also the depth of the squad as well.”