The retired duo Sean O’Loughlin and James Graham head a list of seasoned personalities with key roles
In a season in which the young guns of the Super League have risen like never before, the old guard will take center stage in the Grand Final on Friday.
Much of the pre-game narrative has surrounded retired duo Sean O’Loughlin and James Graham, two of the most iconic figures of the summer era. At 38 years and three days, O’Loughlin becomes the oldest Grand Finalist in its 23-year history, while Graham is 35 years old.
The 36-year-old Saint Zeb Taia rower will also hang up his boots after the game, while two of the key playmakers, James Roby and Thomas Leuluia, are both 35 years old. Ten other players – Kyle Amor, Lachlan Coote, Jonny Lomax, Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Kevin Naiqama, Dom Peyroux, Alex Walmsley, Tony Clubb, Liam Farrell and Willie Isa – are also 30 years or older.
But O’Loughlin and Graham, former England and UK teammates who have gone through the youth systems of their respective clubs to become two of the sport’s greatest stars, will be the most in the spotlight.
While O’Loughlin has spent his entire career in the Cherry and White of Wigan, Graham returned for a Swan Song of the Saints in July after playing in Australia for eight years.
Graham said: « It’s coming to an end and I’ve probably known for a while that this season will be my last. The old body isn’t like it used to be and it’s time to hang up your boots.
« But I’m really excited about this last game. I wasn’t focusing on the big picture, getting to a grand final or winning a grand final when I got back.
« St. Helens is a club that is very close to my heart and has had a lot of success over the years, but the focus has been on just getting the opportunity to get there. I just wanted to do all the little things that give you this chance. ”
Graham describes O’Loughlin as « a warrior, a competitor on and off the field » who has no weak points.
The admiration is mutual. O’Loughlin said: « I have a lot of great memories of playing alongside and against Jammer. For me he was a top team-mate internationally. « .
« It won’t be any different than usual – he’ll give everything. I have great respect for what he has achieved in his career and what he has done not only here but also overseas. ”
Together they have almost 1. Played 000 top level games of this gladiatorial sport. Friday night is going to be one of the strangest for both of them – a grand finale in Hull, away from his spiritual home in Old Trafford, and without the supporters both of whom have idolized throughout their careers.
That will be another dimension for game title sponsors. Betfred are barely able to part, giving Wigan a slight advantage, possibly due to their recent 18-6 win over their big rivals.
O’Loughlin added: « All of the games we played without spectators were different in terms of atmosphere and it will be similar. « .
« I didn’t play the Wigan Saints game a few weeks ago, but that was an increase in intensity over some of the previous rounds. I expect the same thing again – it will be a real physical game, a quick game and an uphill battle.
« The crowd that normally plays a big part in the atmosphere won’t be there, but the intensity will still depend on what’s at stake and that will drive that. « . ”
One of these relentless strikers will end his career at its ultimate climax – both will be remembered for their contribution to the sport long after the last hooter.
Sean O’Loughlin, Wigan Warriors, James Graham and St. Helens R. . F.. . C.. . , Rugby League, Super League Grand Final
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