Wigan Warriors ace Bevan French has praised the work done by club legend and assistant coach Sean O’Loughlin in helping to improve their defensive attributes, adding a toughness they’ve ‘lacked in the past couple years’.
40-year-old O’Loughlin retired in 2020, ending an illustrious 19-year career, all of which spent at hometown club Wigan. Captaining the Cherry and Whites, the legendary forward won 10 major honours including a World Club Challenge. He also earned 38 international caps between England and Great Britain.
Now an assistant coach to Warriors chief Matt Peet, O’Loughlin helped the club to a first League Leaders’ Shield since his retirement with victory at local neighbours Leigh Leopards last Friday night.
Peet’s side were made to work hard for the win which sealed the shield, keeping a clean sheet in the second half, preserving the 10-6 lead they held come the interval following tries from Jai Field and Jake Wardle.
And French – speaking to Love Rugby League at Monday’s Super League Dream Team event – paid credit to the coaching staff for the silverware lift, with specific reference to O’Loughlin.
Wigan Warriors ace highlights characteristic squad previously ‘lacked’
The New South Wales-born ace – who was named in the Dream Team for a third time – said: “I think it (toughness) is something we’ve lacked in the past couple of years, we probably wouldn’t have come away with the two points from that game.
“That just shows how far we’ve come as a squad and as a club, and it’s definitely what we needed. I think it’s just our DNA and character now really.
“It’s been instilled in us all through pre-season, with all the hard work that especially Lockers (Sean O’Loughlin) and Matty Peet do in the defence and in getting us to turn up for each other, making it tough for our opponents. I don’t think we would have had that character in the last few years.
“It’s obviously in Wigan’s DNA as a club, and I guess we’ve been a really entertaining rugby league side over the last couple of years, but we might have lacked that bit of toughness in some places.
“Across the park now, everyone’s got that and we’ve managed to come away with those gritty wins this year. We’ve grown in confidence from it, won matches where we’ve been down a man for most of the game, and I just think things like that show how far we’ve come.”
Cherry and Whites legend Sean O’Loughlin praised by star man Bevan French
O’Loughlin himself was selected for the Dream Team a record seven times, winning four Grand Finals, the first of which in 2010 against bitter rivals St Helens.
French – one of the star men in the Warriors’ current side – has been renowned for his attacking quality since arriving ahead of the 2019 campaign, but was singled out for praise by Sky Sports pundit Phil Clarke following the win at Leigh for praise of his defensive efforts.
The versatile back told Love Rugby League: “We’ve got Sean O’Loughlin as our defensive coach. He realises – and so does everyone else – that it’s a massive part of the game, it goes a long way between winning and losing.
“Over the last couple of years, we were a very entertaining rugby league side, we liked to score points and we’ve been able to score from pretty much anywhere on the field.
“There’s other things though that we’ve had to knuckle down and work on, and defence is one of them. Everyone’s got the right attitude to turn up for each other, and I think defence was our main focus this year rather than attack, and that’s started to show.
“It’s just rubbed off across the whole park, and everyone’s very happy with the way that we’ve defended this year.”