JUST four weeks shy of his 36th birthday, and having just led Wigan Warriors to another Super League title, England captain Sean O’Loughlin could be forgiven for struggling to summon the energy for an arduous Test series against a revived New Zealand side.
However, the veteran loose-forward’s enthusiasm refuses to be dimmed; his stage awaits again so bring on 2.30pm tomorrow at Hull’s KCOM Stadium.
O’Loughlin is the sort of footballer born for such occasions; tough, durable, highly-skilled and as courageous as they come.
He is no mood to give it all up just yet as the anticipated excitement still fires him.
“One hundred per cent it does,” said O’Loughlin ahead of winning his 25th cap.
“They are long seasons especially when you make a Grand Final. You go from a massive high and the week after that you’re in camp again so it is always tough to get right again.
“It was a great win (against Warrington at Old Trafford) and, emotionally, you come down.
“But as soon as you’re in camp with the boys you get excited to get that jersey on once more and that’s the case again this year.”
For one reason or another there are nine players missing tomorrow from the 17 that took to the field in the 6-0 World Cup final defeat to Australia last December, absenteeism that previously would have made life difficult. But it is a sign of England’s growing depth in quality that they remain favourites to overcome the tourists, who recently beat the Kangaroos. There is a sense of a new era emerging, with one eye on the 2021 World Cup.
“There’s one or two who aren’t here who probably would be, but that’s always the case,” added O’Loughlin, who made his own international debut with Great Britain against Australia in 2004.
“It kickstarts new players’ international careers. We feel confident in the side and everyone who has come in are there on merit having come off the back of good seasons.
“We’re looking forward to the competition and starting at Hull.”
O’Loughlin, who made his first Test start in a 26-24 win against the Kiwis at the same ground 14 years ago, missed that Brisbane World Cup decider due to injury.
But he returned as England beat New Zealand in Denver in June, the first game of Michael Maguire’s tenure as Kiwis coach.
O’Loughlin, of course, won a Grand Final under Maguire in 2010, the Australian’s first season of a two-year spell transforming Wigan before heading home to help South Sydney lift a title too.
The decorated forward rates his erstwhile coach highly.
“You go out there understanding what you need to do as a player, but he definitely motivates you as well,” explained O’Loughlin about the 44-year-old, who is set to be unveiled as Wests Tigers coach for 2019.
“At times he wishes he could go out there and play with you, especially when he was at Wigan and he’d not long finished playing. At international level you don’t always get that time to do a ton of coaching, but Madge gets the best out of players and I’m sure they’ll improve again.”
O’Loughlin, who had the “rarity” of scoring tries in the first Test win over the Kiwis at Hull in 2015 and series-clinching victory at Wigan, added: “We didn’t come up against New Zealand in the World Cup last year.
“We got a good result in Denver, but with how strong some of the competition has been over in Australia, New Zealand and Pacific Islands, for us to get a series win this year would be a big statement of intent and show that we are a real contender in the top teams.”