THE new Super League season is six weeks away but Sean O’Loughlin reckons Salford are already shaping as one of the competition’s dark-horses.
The Reds have bolstered their ranks with nine quality signings in the off-season – including five of O’Loughlin’s former Wigan team-mates.
Ex-Warriors hooker Wayne Godwin became the latest to join Salford last week when he switched from Bradford.
He joins ex-Wigan players Stephen Wild (who has moved from Huddersfield) and Sean Gleeson (Wakefield) at The Willows, as well as two members of last year’s Warriors squad – crowd-pleaser Iafeta Paleaaesina and former Kangaroos forward Phil Bailey – who have also moved to the Reds.
Paleaaesina and Bailey did not play in Salford’s 13-12 friendly loss at Leigh yesterday.
But O’Loughlin reckons their arrival at The Willows along with other star signings such as Kiwi forward Vinnie Anderson and highly-rated Canterbury No.1 Luke Patten – who also didn’t face the Centurions – could transform Salford into the real deal in 2011.
The 28-year-old said: “I think Salford are looking very good. I’m sure teams like Leeds and Saints will be there or there-abouts again, but I’ve been impressed by some of the signings that other clubs have made for next season, especially Salford.
“They are looking very strong on paper, they’ve made a lot of signings, and they’ll be one of the sides who I’d expect to be up there next year.
“From where they finished last year, they’d definitely have a good chance of breaking into the top half of the table.
“As long as they can keep those new players healthy and they perform as they have done at other clubs, they’ve definitely got a good shout.”
Wigan’s first match of 2011 will be against the Reds, in a pre-season game on January 16.
With no festive friendlies, O’Loughlin and the Wigan squad are currently enjoying a break from training after a gruelling month which included a three-day stint with the Royal Marines.
And the Test loose-forward echoed comments from his team-mates that they got a lot out of training with the elite Commandos.
“It was enjoyable but tough,” he says. “We got a taste of what kind of training they do and hats off to them, they’re a special breed.
“There was nothing with a rugby ball, it was running miles and miles with guns and things like that. We do some pretty tough training here but that took it to another level with how regimented they were.
“It stripped us down, it was non-stop for 18 hours a day.”
Wigan’s players return to training early in the New Year to plan for pre-season matches against Salford and Barrow (Jan 23).
A game against Warrington for Jon Clarke’s testimonial may also take place the following week.
“It’s been good to spend time with our families and rest up over Christmas,” added O’Loughlin. “Training will be more game-related when we get back, then two weeks later we’re into our pre-season games, so it’ll soon come around.”