SEAN O’Loughlin had to watch from the sidelines as his side were blown away by Castleford in March.
From the second minute when Justin Carney opened up Wigan’s defence in the 42-14 defeat, viewing just got more painful for the Warriors faithful.
It was the third game O’Loughlin had sat out since picking up a knee injury in a win against Huddersfield Giants, and the three-month lay-off was longer than the captain had envisaged.
“It’s taken miles longer than I thought,” he admitted.
“When I had the clean-out it was four to six weeks, but because it was the knee I hurt earlier in my career, it had a few minor setbacks which dragged it out.
“It wasn’t as straight-forward as it could have been – I had a similar thing done to my right knee a couple of years ago and it was only five weeks. But it’s all good now.”
After the club’s start to the season, which drew criticism from pundits and fans, O’Loughlin finds himself coming back into a side which is enjoying more stable form.
Seven wins from the last nine outings have put Wigan in third place, in the slipstream of leaders Leeds and St Helens – and Wigan are perhaps in the best form of the trio.
Last week’s 60-0 win over Hull KR, a team which defeated Wigan five days before that forgettable night in Castleford earlier this season, shows Daryl Powell’s Tigers should be on guard tonight.
“We were finding our feet earlier on this season, there was no worry from the boys,” insisted O’Loughlin.
“We had a tough run with back-to-back losses but we were always confident in the personnel and the structure. In the last month or so we’ve played well.
“We’ve been through it before (people questioning form) in previous years, but those kind of experiences help when you’re in those positions.”
Warriors’ unbeaten Super League record at the DW Stadium is still intact this term, and with the poignancy of the club’s annual Heritage Night, 50 years to the day since Wigan won the 1965 Challenge Cup Final at Wembley, the pressure will be on for the current squad to deliver in front of the legends in attendance.
But throughout history, Castleford have proved to be a bit of a bogey side for the Cherry and Whites.
They are the only side in 19 years to defeat Wigan in the Challenge Cup at home, in 1986 and last season. In 2014 they beat Wigan 36-31, before Warriors inflicted revenge with a stylish 46-6 win at the DW Stadium. And in 1994 they inflicted an embarrassing double over Wigan, winning 46-0 at Wheldon Road before a 33-2 win over Wigan in the Regal Trophy Final. So shocking was the result, Castleford fans can still buy the match DVD from the club shop.
But Wigan are also capable of unleashing their best when they are hurting.
Last week’s result showed that, as have other revenge missions, such as when Wigan beat Sheffield 36-6 in 1998, after losing to the Eagles at Wembley.
And O’Loughlin has managed to use his time on the sidelines to take a trip down the coaching route. His knowledge of not just the game, but Wigan and its history, will be valuable to any young player at the club.
When asked if he had a chance to coach during his lay-off, O’Loughlin said: “Yeah, especially in the first month or two when I’ve not been on the pitch. I’ve not done it with the first team but with the younger players. That was always the plan anyway, but I’ve been able to commit a bit more to it because I’ve not been with the boys.
“Coaching was something I thought I wanted to do but there’s always that doubt. Until you’ve done it, I don’t think you know whether you’re going to like it or whether you’ll be any good at it.
“I always fancied it but there was that reservation there – just because you play doesn’t entitle you to be a good coach.
“But for the past couple of years I’ve worked with the Under-14s and the scholars and this year I’ve worked with Matty Peet, Macca (Steve McCormack) and Jordan James, and I’ve enjoyed it and I’ve learned a lot from them.”
He has also been taking in tips from the first-team coaches in a bit to soak up as much information as he can.
“Waney, John (Winder) and Deacs (Paul Deacon) have helped me too,” he said.
“When you know you’re going into that you pay more attention to what they do and how they speak.”
But for now O’Loughlin is going back to where his club needs him most. He will lead out the team tonight for his first game in three months, and comes back before a crucial month including a Challenge Cup clash, a Magic Weekend game against Leeds, and trips to Catalans and St Helens. But he is ready.
“I trained quite a bit last week and this week,” he explained.
“The intention was this week, I’ve had a few days under my belt.”