Wigan hope to meet fans' expectations


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The Independent Online

Wigan captain Sean O'Loughlin knows there is pressure on his side to deliver major silverware on an annual basis after raising fans' expectations over the last three years.

The Warriors, who today confirmed the capture of Hull KR's Australian stand-off Blake Green for 2013, ended a 12-year wait when they won the Super League Grand Final in 2010 and bridged a nine-year gap with last season's Challenge Cup triumph.

Hopes of completing the double were once more dashed when they lost to Leeds in the Challenge Cup semi-finals in July, but they go into tomorrow's qualifying play-off against Catalan Dragons at the DW Stadium as favourites to regain their league crown.

"Winning one of each in the last couple of years has probably spoilt us a little bit," O'Loughlin said.

"We are probably expected to win things now.

"We've got the league leaders' shield but the main focus is the Challenge Cup and Grand Final and not being at Wembley this year has put all the emphasis on the Grand Final so we want a big shot at it."

O'Loughlin says his side's confidence remains high despite last week's home defeat by St Helens in the last match of the regular season but he knows they could face a tricky first hurdle against the Catalans.

The Dragons will be out to erase the memory of their 44-0 defeat by the Warriors in last year's play-offs and O'Loughlin believes the impending departure of popular coach Trent Robinson could make them even more dangerous.

"We gave them a bit of a drubbing in that first play-off game," he recalled.

"I'm sure they've worked hard all year to be part of the play-offs and, with Trent Robinson going home at the end of the year, they will want to send him off on a bit of a high.

"We've had two very physical games against them already this year. They've a big forward pack and, if you don't get control of them, you are kind of on the back foot for the majority of the game.

"We're well aware of how tough a game this could be."

The Catalans secured fourth place largely on the back of their impressive performances in Perpignan, where they have lost just once this year, compared to their away form which has brought them just two wins in the last three months.

However, they are hoping to rectify that by arriving two days in advance of the match and Robinson also believes they are in a better position to go all the way to Old Trafford than they were last year, his first at the helm.

"It was a financial decision to come the day before competition games which is obviously not ideal but we've given ourselves an extra day this time," said Robinson, who is leaving at the end of the season to take charge of Sydney Roosters.

"We certainly got a lesson last year. We knew that we would have to improve throughout the year and we believe we've done that.

"We're conscious that we've got to improve to get to the final but we also don't feel we're far away any more. We know what we have got to do."

The losers tomorrow, and in Saturday's second qualifier between Warrington and St Helens, will get a second chance to reach the semi-finals but O'Loughlin says that will not be part of their thinking.

"You are well aware that you get another chance if you lose but we'll be hoping not to use that," he said.

"When we won the Grand Final in 2010 we lost that first game and went the harder route and, if possible, we want to get this game won and use that weekend's rest to do a bit more work on the field and rest a few injured bodies.

"We are looking at this game as if it's a knockout game."