Sean O’Loughlin insists Wigan are ready to move on without him.
O’Loughlin, the club’s influential captain for 15 seasons, confirmed that next season will be his last as he prepares to retire after a glittering career spanning almost 20 seasons.
During his time in cherry and white, few players at any club have had such a significant, and such obvious, influence on their side. Over the years, it has been said over and over again that Wigan are not the same team without Sean O’Loughlin.
But he claims that’s not the case any more. Having just turned 37, the former England captain believes the club’s other players are capable of taking the club to further success once his time has come.
“It’s not a worry at all for me,” he says.
“With the personnel we’ve got now, especially the younger boys who can play that similar role to me. That 13 jersey can be filled without me.
“For me it’s not a worry and this gives everyone a year to prepare to take on that role. As much as we want a good season this year, it does allow us to plan for the future too.
“Maybe it was a worry a few years back, but I don’t think it’s been an issue for a few years now. Because I play a ball-playing role in the middle it does change the dynamics of the team a little bit when I’m not playing, but over a number of years we’ve got better at it and we’ve found ways to play around it, plus we’ve got players who can slot into that position and play it as well as I can.”
Among those is Morgan Smithies, who has emerged as the heir to O’Loughlin’s throne.
Yet O’Loughlin insists that his retirement is not a passing of the torch. Instead, it is a changing of the guard.
“Morgan is his own player, he won’t try to fill my boots,” said O’Loughlin.
“He’ll stamp his own personality on the role and make it is his own. Yeah, he’s more than capable of doing what I do for the team, as is Ollie Partington and the other forwards as well. It’s about the dynamic of all three forwards in the middle learning to play with each other and your bench players slotting into that as well.
“But he won’t be trying to copy my game. He’ll be looking at stuff I do well, maybe trying to emulate that, but then bringing his own game, which he started to do last season and will do next year too.”
In recent years, O’Loughlin’s future has become an annual talking point because of his decision to sign one-year contract extensions after the season has finished. Talk of retirement has lingered for a while and unthinkable moves to Toronto and Leeds have also been mooted.
He revealed the reason behind leaving talks so late was to assess how his body felt before making the decision to extend his career.
Yet he has now made the call to retire almost 12 months ahead. So why?
“Because I’ll be 38 at the end of the year and it gets harder and harder,” he said.
“I still enjoy it and I think I bring something to the team. While I feel like that I want to keep playing, but I just think now is a good opportunity to set my stall out.
“The last few years have almost been a bit of an unknown, not being quite certain if I was going to go around again, and there’s been a bit of a shadow hanging over the end of the season. It hasn’t been ideal.
“So I just think it being clear now, knowing what the plan is, gives me time to prepare for that and enjoy the season. It means I know and the club know where we both stand.”
It also allows the two parties to decide what his future holds beyond his playing days. O’Loughlin signed a contract several years ago that looked ahead to his eventual retirement.
“I signed something quite a few years back now that said that when I did finish I would join the club in some capacity for a few years.
“That will be a discussion with Rads (Kris Radlinski) and the staff going forward about what exactly the role is.
“This allows me and the club to plan what I’m going to do. I’ve done stuff for a number of years with the Academy, but it will help the transition on both sides.
“But I’m not looking at anything other than preparing for a good season. At this club you’re always trying to win Grand Finals and trying to get to Wembley. It doesn’t matter if it’s your first season or your last, you’re always preparing for that.”