George Williams is starting to get used to bossing his skipper about as he prepares to strut his stuff on the biggest stage.
The 22-year-old Wigan stand-off has already won a Grand Final and a World Club Challenge and played for England but admits he is still coming to terms with running out alongside his home-town heroes.
I watched Sean O’Loughlin when I was growing up and at 18 I was playing next to himGeorge Williams
Williams, Wigan born and bred, was just eight when Sean O’Loughlin began his professional career but he will be at his side at Wembley on Saturday when the Warriors’ seek to wrestle back the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup from the grasp of Hull.
Williams was still coming through the ranks when O’Loughlin lifted the Cup against Hull in 2013 but got to sample the unique atmosphere and it clearly whetted his appetite.
“I was in the first-team squad but obviously not in the match-day squad,” he recalled. “I went down the day before and got a feel for it with some of the other lads.
“It was a great day and I’m hungry for that.
“This is my chance now. I’ve fallen short a couple of times in quarter-finals and semi- finals but now I get the chance to play at the best stadium in England and I just can’t wait.”
Williams is set for a place in Wayne Bennett’s World Cup squad in October after another hugely-impressive domestic season but Wigan coach Shaun Wane told a joint press conference on Monday that he is far from content with the youngster’s contributions and the player agrees.
“I’ve definitely got more to come,” Williams said. “Waney wants the best for me and, if I’m going to be the player I want to be, someone has got to be hard on me and he is definitely that.
“I want to improve my organising. It’s sometimes tough when you’re a quiet lad but I think I’ve got a lot better.
“When I first came into this team, I was a mute but now I’m a bit more confident and I feel as though I’m gaining the respect of the changing room.
“As a half-back, you’ve got to be vocal. I was in the Under-19s but, when you step up to the first team and you’re playing alongside Sean O’Loughlin, you go into your shell a little bit.
“I watched Sean O’Loughlin when I was growing up and at 18 I was playing next to him. It’s a bit crazy. I embrace it now, I’m enjoying my job.”
A place at Wembley looked a distant prospect as injury-hit Wigan struggled throughout the first half of the season but their hopes of repeating their double feat of 2013 rose with the return of their star men.
“It’s been a roller-coaster season to be honest,” Williams said.
“We’ve had our ups and downs but since John Bateman and Sam Tomkins came back, they’ve given us that extra little bit, standards in training have risen.
“A lot of what we do goes through Sam and it’s great to have a world-class full-back in the side.
“We’ve been pleased with our last two performances, I think we’re starting to build some momentum now.”