SEAN O’Loughlin says Wigan’s determination to finish the season strongly is evidence of the growing importance of the League Leaders’ Shield.
The kudos of finishing the regular season on top of the pile has been questioned, with some fans referring to the silverware as ‘The Hubcap’.
It’s a reward for consistency during the season, and for teams who grind out wins at tough grounds - and not just peak for the big gamesSean O’Loughlin
Certainly, finishing first offers little, if no, greater reward in the play-offs – both top-two teams are guaranteed a home semi-final.
But as the Warriors prepare for tonight’s derby showdown at St Helens, O’Loughlin says the players hold the accolade in high-esteem.
He said: “I know a win against Saints guarantees us a home tie in the play-offs, but the accolade of finishing top is still a big motivation.
“Getting your hands on the league leaders’ shield has become more important.
“For the players, it’s a massive one. I know it gets overshadowed by the Grand Final, but we look at it as there being three trophies to go for in the season – not two.
“It’s a reward for consistency during the season, and for teams who grind out wins at tough grounds - and not just peak for the big games.”
Leeds last night lost 29-22 to Castleford, giving Warriors a chance to pull two-points clear at the top with victory tonight.
“It’s when you get to this stage of the season when it starts getting nervous,” said O’Loughlin, back in the side tonight after a minor calf injury.
“The temptation is to look back on the games you lost and think, ‘if only we’d done this, if only that had gone our way’.
“But then there are games Leeds have slipped up on too.”
In a strange quirk of results, Wigan have never won a ‘non-Easter’ derby at St Helens 2003 – when O’Loughlin was the only current player in the squad.
“The lads don’t think about stats like that,” said the England skipper.
“We’ve beaten them already this year, but we know we’re going to have to perform.”
O’Loughlin, meanwhile, has heaped praise on in-form forward John Bateman and tipped him for a bright future in the game.
“He’s has been awesome,” he said. “He hits and runs above his weight and he will be an even bigger force when he gets some more size on him as well.”