SEAN O’Loughlin has credited the new Super League structure for helping better England for international glory today.
The national team are on the brink of claiming their first major series victory since the Great Britain name was shelved in 2007.
For international level, you need the experience of games that go to the wireSean O’Loughlin
A win against New Zealand at London’s Olympic Stadium this afternoon would put England 2-0 up in the three-game contest.
While a clutch of the squad ply their trade in the NRL, the bulk of the side play in Super League.
And O’Loughlin reckons the introduction of the Super 8s model has made them more battle-hardened than in the past.
The 32-year-old said: “I think the way the Super 8s has been, you’re involved in more tight games, more intense games, and that adds to the experience.
“You don’t want to be going into Test matches having played in those blow-out scores.”
A look at Wigan’s fixtures would appear to lend weight to his view - their last game against a lower-placed side was back in July.
The Warriors then played seven games against top-eight sides, ahead of the play-offs and Grand Final.
“For international level, you need the experience of games that go to the wire. Since the summer, we’ve played in a lot more tighter games than in past seasons, and it’s been the same for the other lads (at other Super League teams),” he said.
England went ahead in the series with a 26-12 win in the opening Test at Hull last Sunday.
O’Loughlin marked his 400th game for club or country with a match sealing try in the dying minutes.
The action moves to London’s Olympic Stadium this afternoon and, with a BBC audience and a crowd of close to 50,000, O’Loughlin recognises what a victory may do for the sport’s profile.
But he is reluctant to look beyond his role this afternoon.
“We’re not getting carried away,” he said. “I wouldn’t say confidence is through the roof, we’re happy with the result last week. but at the same time we know they’ll come back stronger.
“We need to kick on and improve.
“It’s often the case with internationals, you improve as you get more comfortable with each other and get more match-fitness.
“I do think this Test will be a higher-quality and higher-intensity.”
O’Loughlin - who this week confirmed he plans to continue representing England next season – was in the GB side which whitewashed New Zealand 3-0 in 2007.
But he has lost count of the number of occasions they have gone close over the years.
“Those defeats, they just want you to get into that position and do it again,” he said.
“Until you do that you can’t fix it. You want to put yourself in that position to try and get over the line.
“The near-misses bring you together, you’ve got that common goal and – I’m not blowing smoke here – but Steve has worked hard at pushing the England and club culture – it doesn’t take long, when you’re here, to knit together and get your combinations going again. A lot has been made of just coming short and I think there’s a good feeling to this year. We’re confident we can get our hands on the silverware.”
Much has been made of New Zealand’s absences, but England have had their own withdrawals including Souths prop George Burgess, Wigan-bound full-back Sam Tomkins, St Helens prop Alex Walmsley and Brisbane centre Jack Reed - recognised as four of the best English players in the sport.
Some of their 2014 Four Nations players, including Wigan’s Dan Sarginson and Joel Tomkins, also missed out.
O’Loughlin reckons such withdrawals would have rocked them in years gone by.
“It’s not about personnel - when I first came into the GB set-up, we had world-class players,” he said.
“I think the difference is the depth.”