Wigan Warriors captain Sean O'Loughlin has likened playing in an increasingly physical Super League to running into brick walls, as he prepares to begin his 16th season in the competition.
O'Loughlin led the Warriors to a third Grand Final triumph in seven seasons last October, returning from injury ahead of schedule to feature in a 12-6 victory over Warrington Wolves at Old Trafford.
A veteran of 382 appearances for his hometown club, the 34-year-old loose forward was invited to reflect on the changes to Super League since he made his Wigan debut back in 2002.
O'Loughlin told Omnisport: "When you think back year to year, it doesn't feel like it changes a massive amount. But then when I've looked back at some games when I was starting off, the game's just so much better now.
"The defences are better organised, the attack is better. You look at old games and it looks like there's space everywhere, and then you watch a game now and it's like a brick wall [in defence]."
Asked if he would like to go back in time and play a game from 15 years ago, a laughing O'Loughlin replied: "It would be alright, yeah - start again."
Leeds Rhinos won the Super League title in five out of six seasons between 2007 and 2012, but there has not been a successful title defence since.
Wigan's most recent successes, in 2013 and 2016, sandwiched triumphs for St Helens and Leeds, and O'Loughlin is aware of just how tough it will be for the Warriors to earn back-to-back Grand Final wins for the first time in their history.
"That is a real challenge - it would be massive to do that," he added.
"The quality of players we produce in the game, it's always improving, it's always getting better and that's what we want from the sport. We want it to get tougher and more physical all the time.
"I think when you're successful, you tend to lose a few players. We have done this year, but I think we've also replaced well, so we feel like we're in good shape."
Wigan begin the 2017 campaign with a trip to Salford Red Devils on Saturday.