SEAN O’LOUGHLIN hopes to lift title number five to go alongside two Challenge Cups, three League Leaders’ Shields, seven appearances in Super League’s Dream Team and a World Club Challenge.
Not bad for someone who felt he was out of his depth.
The Wigan skipper hangs up his boots after Friday’s Grand Final after establishing himself as a legend at club and Test level.
But rewind 18-and-a-half years and a nervous 19-year-old made his debut against Hull FC in a Wigan side including current coach Adrian Lam, current executive director Kris Radlinski and brother-in-law and current Ireland RU boss Andy Farrell.
And O’Loughlin admits that at the time he felt it was too much for him before helping a sport that changed around him during more than 500 appearances.
He said: “I remember feeling like I was out of my depth, the standard of the games was way bigger than I was used to.
“I remember my lungs feeling like they were coming out of my chest. I almost felt like I was a kid playing against a bunch of dads!
“When I look back to the standard of the game then, there’s a massive difference. There’s always been that quality of player and the talent has been there.
“But one of the biggest differences is the coaching, how well teams are coached now.
“Some of the things I saw when I started, if you did them now you’d get embarrassed. The standard’s gone through the roof.
“Teams are miles better drilled, miles better skill wise, the training is at a different level. If you get a few good coaches in the game, it raises the bar.”
Lam insists he knew from day one that O’Loughlin, who went on to captain England, would be something special.
Special to the point he has repeatedly had and turned down the chance to move to the NRL.
The loose forward, who turned 38-years-old yesterday, could have stayed on to play in next year’s World Cup on home turf.
But O’Loughlin, who believes the appointment of Michael Maguire as coach in 2010 was the most pivotal moment of his career, is adamant that never entered his thoughts, adding: “It was tough making the final call but I’m definitely at ease with it.
“It’s something I’ve contemplated for the past couple of seasons, it’s not like it’s been thrown up on me. It felt like this year was right.
“Some of the young lads who play alongside me, I’ve seen them come through from scholarship – it makes me feel old!”
Wigan born and bred, now part of the Warriors’ Hall of Fame, O’Loughlin gets the chance to round it all off with a derby final against St Helens before joining the coaching staff.
At least 60,000 things will be missing – fans and the Old Trafford venue after the showpiece was moved to Hull– but that will not detract from the occasion.
He continued: “There’s no shying away from the fact it’ll be different but going to Old Trafford and not being in front of fans is something you never want to do.
“But the teams have done it enough times now to get to grips with it and the importance of the game is what will drive it.”
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