England would have won the Rugby League World Cup in 2017 had Sean O’Loughlin been fit to play in the final, according to former captain Kevin Sinfield.
As Wigan’s O’Loughlin prepares to bring down the curtain on his distinguished 19-year career in Friday’s Super League grand final against St Helens, Sinfield paid the veteran loose forward the ultimate compliment.
O’Loughlin had led England to their 20-18 semi-final win over Tonga in Auckland but was missing through injury a week later when they lost 6-0 to Australia in Brisbane.
So, would England have won that match had O’Loughlin been available and fit?
“Yes – and throw Gareth Ellis in there, he would have been great to have out there as well,” Sinfield said.
“Sean is certainly a legend of Super League and one of the best players we’ve ever produced.
“He could have played any position on the field with his wonderful skill set and great work ethic. I loved playing alongside him.”
Former Leeds back rower Ellis, who retired from the international game before the last World Cup, has now hung up his boots for good and St Helens prop James Graham will make it a hat-trick of retirees as he prepares to play his last match on Friday night.
“The game is going to miss all three of them,” said Sinfield, who was able to bow out of Super League in 2015 with a grand final ring, a fairytale finish that will be denied to either O’Loughlin or Graham.
“I think the team that has the best reason to win often comes out on top but they’ve both got legends who will retire at the end of this. It’s too close to call, I reckon.”
Sinfield, the Leeds director of rugby, was speaking at a press conference to unveil details of his bid to run seven marathons in seven days from Tuesday to raise funds and awareness for former teammate Rob Burrow and the Motor Neurone Disease Association.
Burrow, who was diagnosed with MND last December, is now largely confined to a wheelchair and has lost his speech but remains in high spirits, according to Sinfield.
“He’s fighting it as you knew he would,” he said. “Clearly some things have stopped working, he’s using his voice player a lot more now.
“But the great thing is that every time I see him, he makes me laugh. He’s still got that spirit and that sparkle in his eye.”