SEAN O’LOUGHLIN thought he had been there, seen it and won it in his glittering career – but even this is new to him.
He knows Wigan are there to be shot at, especially after yesterday’s points deduction, but he would not have it any other way.
After lifting the Super League title last year, the Warriors could have been forgiven for wanting to ease their way into 2019.
Instead they kick off with a fierce derby at rivals St Helens and face a Leeds side hellbent on getting back to the top before facing Aussie champs Sydney Roosters in the World Club Challenge.
A tough ask for anyone but O’Loughlin would rather taste something new and go straight in from the off as new boss Adrian Lam looks to emulate what Shaun Wane achieved, which he admits will take some doing.
He said: “It’s the first time I’ve ever kicked off a season by playing St Helens. The pressure’s on, isn’t it? We won it last year but the spectators want it again.
“But I’d definitely rather be shot at rather than doing the shooting. If you’re champions, you’ve been there, you’ve got your hands on it and you know what it’s about.
“We spent a number of years being that team, chasing and not quite getting there but since 2010 we’ve been contenders every year.
“And if we want to be genuine contenders in the World Club Challenge, playing Saints and Leeds will put us in good shape.
“Starting against tough sides means you’ve got to be on your game straight away but we’ve got to be good or we’re not going to pick up wins. I’d rather have a start like that with the World Club coming up.
“The desperation to win will be there.”
New Beginnings is the strapline Super League, led by chief executive Robert Elstone, is living by as it looks to finally become super again.
Big name signings like Blake Austin and Jason Clark at Warrington, Leeds trio Konrad Hurrell, Tui Lolohea, Trent Merrin, and Saints pair Kevin Naiqama and Lachlan Coote certainly made fans sit back.
Things have changed at Wigan since October’s Old Trafford glory. Wane has gone, Sam Tomkins, John Bateman and Ryan Sutton have gone but Lam has come in along with controversial star Zak Hardaker.
After a 14-month ban for talking cocaine, the troubled star ended up sweating on his own future after being convicted of drink-driving.
Now it is time to make headlines for what he is, a scarily good rugby league player.
And even before a ball has been passed in anger, O’Loughlin can sense the changes as he added: “We lost a few but with what’s come in, we still look like we can be genuine contenders.
“Adrian played as a half-back and has that attacking mentality, he’s brought that into training but he’s also been around long enough to know the basics win you games early in the season and he’s got that in his pocket.
“He probably knew that us winning it made it a tougher situation for him coming in but he’s here to be successful. Just because we won it last year doesn’t change anything for him this year.
“The calibre of import is definitely a step up from previous years, which will benefit Super League as a whole and English players coming off the back of international success will be more confident on the back of that.”
O’Loughlin, 35, faces an interesting weekend for his family as brother-in-law Andy Farrell takes on son Owen when England meet Ireland in the Six Nations on Saturday.
He would rather let them do the talking as he looks to walk the walk once again, and that means for Great Britain on their proposed tour at the end of the season as well as his hometown club.
“Everyone who qualifies will be look to make Great Britain,” he conceded. “The likes of Tommy Makinson and Jake Connor came up against some of the best backs in the world against New Zealand, so they’re going to be more confident and more hungry to be successful and involved again.
“Bringing Great Britain back is big, it’s got some tradition to it and it adds to our international game.”
TOP RUGBY LEAGUE STORIES