Wigan captain Sean O’Loughlin is urging his team to create history when they take on Australian champions Cronulla in the 2017 World Club Challenge at the DW Stadium.
The Super League Grand Final winners will equal Leeds’ record of seven appearances in the annual clash of the champions knowing that victory would enable them to become the first team to achieve four wins.
O’Loughlin was just 11 when a Wigan team captained by Shaun Edwards and including his brother-in-law Andy Farrell won the last of their three world titles in Brisbane in 1994 and the skipper senses the opportunity to move alongside some of the all-time greats.
“I’ve been lucky enough to win Grand Finals and Challenge Cups, but this is something I’ve never won and I would love to do that,” he said.
“Growing up, I’ve seen Wigan teams that I’ve supported win this trophy, Waney (coach Shaun Wane) speaks highly of his achievement and it’s a box I want to tick off.
“It’s not just Wigan fans who will be supporting us, it’s the whole of England, the whole of Super League, so to do that for everybody else, to show the other clubs that they are not super human, that we are the same standard, would be a massive statement.”
Wane was man of the match when Wigan beat Manly 8-2 in their first World Club Challenge at Central Park in 1987 and he has brought in a host of his team-mates from that famous occasion to inspire the present-day generation on the eve of Sunday’s game.
Rekindling memories of that match and presenting the current team with their jerseys are Joe Lydon, Henderson Gill, Nicky Kiss, Ian Potter, Brian Case, Steve Hampson and Ian Gildart, whose son Oliver will line up at centre against the Sharks with words of wisdom from his father already ringing in his ear.
“He’s spoken to me personally about it and I’m sure the other boys would like to hear some stories from some of the players as well,” he said.
“He’s told me just how big it is and how much it means to the town and to you as an individual. To say you are the best team in the world, it doesn’t get any higher than that.”
Gildart, whose father was a non-playing substitute in 1987 but still gained a winners’ medal, was not born when Wigan won the title 23 years ago and, like his captain, appreciates the chance for the class of 2017 to create their own piece of history.
“It’s a long time since we last won it,” said Gildart, who played in last year’s World Club Series defeat by Brisbane. “It would be great if we could get the win this weekend and get ourselves into the history books, especially me personally. I’m really looking forward to it.
“I only played seven or eight games before I ended up playing on the wing against Brisbane and that was an eye-opener for me. I learnt a lot from that game that I can take into this game, I’ll be a lot better for it.
“That game was part of the series, this is the real test, and I’m really looking forward to playing against some of the best players in the world. We’ve got some of the best players in the world, too, so it’s set for a real good game.”
Wigan have England second rower John Bateman back after missing their opening league game, while Cronulla have included 13 members of their Grand Final-winning team.
The Sharks, led by veteran forward Paul Gallen, are without both wingers, Valentine Holmes and Sosaia Feki, through injury and also without a specialist hooker following Michael Ennis’ retirement and full-back following Ben Barba’s departure.