These days, it can be quite easy if you’re an older player in Super League to get lost in the shuffle somewhat.
After all, we as a competition seem to be blessed with some of the finest young talent we’ve had in a long time, and the attention often shifts to the future, rather than the present. It’s how we’re wired as sports fans. We’re always looking for the next big thing. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
But we shouldn’t forget that we still have some incredible talent of a more delicate age, shall we say – and on a momentous week for two of them in particular, it feels only right to pay tribute.
Danny McGuire and Sean O’Loughlin both made their debuts around the turn of the century. Many others have followed in their footsteps at both Leeds and Wigan respectively since: few have made the impact that they have on the English game.
Originally, this column was set to be on a different angle – how both Leeds and Wigan should fight tooth and nail to keep their iconic captains on board for 2018. But that has all changed in the last 24 hours with O’Loughlin’s comments he is close to a new deal (as if there was ever any doubt) and the mutual decision from McGuire and Leeds that they will part company for 2018.
But despite both of them now well into their mid-30s and in the twilight years of their playing days, they are both still as imperative and important to their sides than ever before.
Firstly, McGuire. He has taken a very different route to the captaincy of his hometown club than O’Loughlin – only assuming the role when Kevin Sinfield retired at the end of 2015. He had to guide the club through a difficult, transitional 2016 campaign: but he and Leeds look better for that now.
McGuire is back to the form which saw some say he was the competition’s best half-back two seasons ago. On Sunday against Salford he was sensational – and it is almost as if he has reinvented himself having to step up as the side’s senior pivot. There’s no doubting there will be a heap of clubs – even if one is a clear favourite in Hull KR – ready to try and sign him next year.
Then there’s O’Loughlin. It’s always seemed like non-Wiganers never really fully appreciate the talent, the leadership and the ability the England captain has. Even in the present day, when he is missing from the Wigan side, they are far worse for his absence. Even when he is off the field having being subbed, you always feel a noticeable lift in the Warriors’ performances when he returns.
That, in essence, is the sign of an incredible captain and a phenomenal leader. It will be a special occasion for all Wigan fans on Thursday night when O’Loughlin moves into the top 10 all-time appearance makers in Wigan’s history. That is an incredible achievement: and one which sums up O’Loughlin’s career to perfection.
When the time comes for both of them to hang their boots up, their legacy and impact on the sport will be felt for decades to come. We do throw the word around too much, but Danny McGuire and Sean O’Loughlin? When you’re looking for Super League legends, they’re right up in the elite bracket. It’s been a joy to watch them both – and thankfully, they’re not going anywhere just yet, either.
It’s been a joy to watch them both ply their trade in Super League. In an era where we seem to be drowning with exciting, promising young talent, the fact both McGuire and O’Loughlin are still leading their famous old clubs with such distinction proves where they belong in a list of the league’s greats.