ENGLAND captain Sean O’Loughlin concedes his side must defeat New Zealand today to prove they are taking steps in the right direction.
The whole series is on the line as they tackle the Four Nations champions at his home ground of Wigan level one-all.
Loose-forward O’Loughlin would clearly love to clinch it – a draw would actually secure the hosts the Baskerville Shield as they are the current holders – at the DW Stadium where he has spent his entire career.
To lose it all in such familiar surroundings would be hard to take for the 32-year-old, but he added: “It’s not just the fact it’s at Wigan.
“Not winning the series is the biggest thing as we’ve spoken about being close these last few years and we are desperate to get a series victory and get our hands on some silverware.
“I think we need that to prove we’re making steps forward and are keeping improving.
“We’ve been so close for a few years now and this has been spoken about a lot; this is the one really earmarked to get over the line and get a win.”
O’Loughlin is one of two survivors from the last side to deliver a series triumph, James Graham being the other in a 3-0 whitewash of the Kiwis when still in the guise of Great Britain in 2007.
Did he ever think then he would still be waiting for another such victory eight years on?
“No, not really,” added O’Loughlin.
“It does seem a long, long time ago now but I think before and after that series we had been on the back of some big scorelines against the Aussies and Kiwis.
“In more recent times, even though we’ve not got over line with a series win, we’ve been in a lot more competitive and closer games.
“We’re bridging that gap and since Steve (McNamara) has been involved in the build-up to the (2013) World Cup and after that, we have been pushing and closing that gap.”
O’Loughlin clearly has fine memories of 2007 when he was still an emerging talent on the international stage.
“I think that was my second or third year involved with them so it was a great feeling as a young kid,” he said.
“I started back-row which was a bit uncomfortable playing a position I’d not really played too much.
“But to get that win was a great feeling. A lot of the wins you get against some of the (international) sides you are expected to achieve so you don’t always celebrate too much.
“But those types against the Aussies and Kiwis feel like Grand Finals. The boys enjoy them.”
He feels the venue will aid England’s cause this lunchtime, too, as McNamara’s side seek to atone for last week’s 9-2 loss at London’s Olympic Stadium.
“It’s good to get the last game in a strong rugby league town,” said O’Loughlin.
“I think it will make a big difference – a full house and, even though it’s bit smaller than last week, the crowd’s probably a bit more on top of you.
“It’s an exciting one for us Wigan lads, too, of of course.”
There will be a sell-out crowd of 25,000 this afternoon but, despite a healthy attendance of 44,393 in London last week, the atmosphere there felt a little subdued.
O’Loughlin, who scored in the 26-12 first Test win at Hull FC, said: “I wouldn’t say it felt flat. I think it was just the setup of the stadium a little bit; you’re quite a way from the pitch.
“That has a bit of an effect but, from our point of view, it still felt like a well-supported game.
“It’s just at Wigan the crowd are crammed in a bit more. It will be a proud moment for me, too; this year’s the first time I’ve captained on home soil and so to get the chance to do it at Wigan is something I’m looking forward to.”
The chance to topple the world’s No 1 ranked side is too good an opportunity to miss, also.
O’Loughlin admitted: “It’s massive. When the Aussies and Kiwis come over here you do see that as the ultimate challenge.
“And them coming over as number one it is good for us to really have a crack at them; they beat the Aussies recently and got that top spot deservedly.
“There has been bit made by the players they do have missing here but those that have come in and those still in the team are still deservedly the number one side so it’s still a great challenge for us to test ourselves.
“It’s all teed itself up nicely. We wanted to get the job done last week but this puts us under a bit of pressure now and puts them under bit of pressure, too, so it’s all to play for.”
Would a series victory make up for Wigan’s agonising 22-20 Grand Final loss to Leeds Rhinos last month?
“It’s good to be involved with England as when you lose a Grand Final like that you can dwell on it all through pre-season,” conceded O’Loughlin, his side having lost at Old Trafford for a second year running.
“But this has given us a chance to reset our focus; you can’t sulk about it, you have to get on and it has been a bit of a diversion.”