Gareth Ellis - Ultimate professional Sean O’Loughlin helps put an end to our Challenge Cup dream

It was the 2002 England A tour of Fiji and Tonga that I first really got to know Sean O’Loughlin.

Roadblock: Hull's Tevita Satae finds no way through the tight Wigan defence.

Picture : Jonathan Gawthorpe
Roadblock: Hull's Tevita Satae finds no way through the tight Wigan defence. Picture : Jonathan Gawthorpe

I’d only played against him in Academy games before but he was the captain of that squad which included loads of players who went on to have great careers: Danny McGuire, Rob Burrow, Andy Lynch and Shaun Briscoe to name a few.

As a young lad coming through, it was an absolutely unbelievable experience. I think I’d only been pro’ for about 18 months and to go on tour with a group of players - probably the elite group just below the Great Britain team - was immense.

Even back then, seeing just how professional Lockers was - I think he was still just 19 - was eye-opening . I don’t think anything has changed.

Top player: Sean O'Loughlin has been as huge influence on Wigan Warriors and international sides for nearly 20 years.

He’s 37 now and, against our Hull side on Saturday, played his first game for Wigan in about seven months yet he looked like he had never been away.

Lockers just goes about his business; he’s a very intelligent rugby league player and - even approaching his 38th birthday - you can still see he’s got that nous and ability to know when to pass and when to run.

But I think his real talent is the way he’s able to influence those around him; they all tend to raise their game when he is out there with him.

We found that out to our cost on Saturday. He is supposed to retire at the end of the season and join their coaching staff but the Wigan coach Adrian Lam has been asked if he might try and get him to carry on again in 2021.

Striding out: Hull's Josh Griffin looks to get away from Wigan's Willie Isa in the Challenge Cup defeat. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe

He does not play all the games but Wigan are probably comfortable just bringing him out for the big ones if needed.

They have a good group of young blokes coming through there, the firepower so to speak with good aggressiveness and he is the levelling, calming influence that you especially need alongside them in the big games.

He is still so effective at what he does and he will be enjoying being part of a side that is still challenging. For him, until he gets to that point where he really has had enough of the game, he should carry on. At the minute, he’s playing in a team that is challenging which is always a nice incentive to carry on.

It’s certainly why I’ve been playing these last 18 months - searching for those glory moments while doing something you enjoy.

From my experiences, my advice would be while he is enjoying it, to keep doing it. I can definitely see him going into coaching. He’s got the personality for it; he’s assertive with his presence and selective with his words. I’ve never seen him shouting and bawling.

He has a real influence in other ways. I’m sure the players around him at Wigan would be happy to see him play on for a couple of years as well.

It’s a tough decision. He’ll know it comes to an end for everyone at some stage. I think it will be more up to Sean O’Loughlin when he calls time on his Wigan career rather than the other way around, a bit like Cameron Smith at Melbourne Storm; the way he’s played is not dissimilar to what he was six years ago. They’ve both earned the right to decide.

For us, it was just a bitterly disappointing start. I obviously didn’t play having not recovered in time with my knee. But I watched both quarter-finals and both were near as damn identical in that one team was on top.

Saints were all over Warrington in the first 20 minutes as were Wigan with us.

But what Warrington were able to do was they kept completing, even though they were under the pump; they kept getting to the end and turning it over on their terms.

On the back of that they didn’t concede many points and stayed in the game on the scoreboard as well to slowly work their way back in. Before you know it, they’re in that game and came out the other side with the win.

The difference with us was instead of us being patient and working our way through that period, grinding it out, we must have made five or six errors.

You are robbed of energy and the next thing it is 26-0 and the game is gone. It was so disappointing but we’ve been here before and it’s going to take a while before it changes and we start to see that consistency.

It starts with individuals becoming consistent before we become a consistent team.