Leeds Rhinos big interview - Sean Long relishing new role ahead of huge Challenge Cup tie at St Helens
In Challenge Cup history, few names can eclipse Sean Long who won the trophy with St Helens five times, three of them as man of the match.
Long spent 12 years as a player for Saints, also had a spell on the coaching staff and will be back at his former stamping ground for another Cup tie today - but under a different flag and with no divided loyalties.
“I’ve settled in really well,” Long said of his new role as assistant-coach at Saints’ third round opponents Leeds Rhinos
“The staff have been fantastic and the lads have made me feel really welcome.
“I’ve moved up here, it’s nice to be here and it has all been really really positive.”
Rhinos and Saints fought some high-profile battles throughout his playing days there, but Long insisted there has been no culture shock following his move to Emerald Headingley.
“I left Saints a couple of years ago,” he pointed out. “Obviously we were big rivals back in the day and Rhinos had the better of St Helens in the Grand Final, but I think once your playing career has finished your coaching career is totally different. It doesn’t feel weird at all, it actually feels good.”
A backroom role gives Long the opportunity to put his knowledge of the game, developed as a shot-caller in one of the sport’s most successful teams, to new use.
“I’ve always wanted to be a coach after playing,” he recalled. “Luckily for me, I got an opportunity to coach at Salford in 2012.
“I was thinking about going round again, but my body was shot to pieces so I took the job as assistant.
“I got lucky, really, that someone gave me a job and I have been doing it now for nearly 10 years.”
Even after all that time, the 44-year-old admitted he is still learning his trade - and reckons he will be throughout his career.
He said: “I think you are always learning as a coach. I do believe I am not far off being a head coach and probably the main thing for me now is the next level, the management of recruitment etc.
“The on the field stuff, handling the boys and doing presentations in front of the lads, comes second nature to me.
“It’s the next level I need now. I have known Rich [Agar] a long time and he has said he’s going to help me along with that and do his best so if a job does become available in a couple of years’ time, I will be ready for it.”
Castleford Tigers have a coaching vacancy for 2022 and beyond, so does Long have any interest in taking over from Daryl Powell?
“No, not at all,” he said. “I have signed a two-year contract at Leeds and I’ve only been here three months!
“I am really happy here, it is a great club, a great fan base - once we get the fans in - and the board’s been fantastic with me as well.”
With Long now on the coaching staff - and another former Saints man Kyle Eastmond having also joined Rhinos in pre-season - it was almost inevitable the teams would be drawn together in the Challenge Cup.
Long observed: “It’s one of those, they are a well-drilled outfit and they’ve been at the top of the game for a while now.
“They are going to be tough to break down, defensively they are very good, but we are just ready for the challenge.
“I always believe it’s a one-off game in the Cup, it is who performs on the day. It doesn’t matter who you’ve got out or who’s playing, it is a one-off and anything can happen.”
After so much Challenge Cup success during his playing career, Long admitted: “It would be nice to win it as a coach.”
But he stressed: “There’s a lot of rounds to go before then. You never know, obviously we would have preferred someone in the Championship.
“That would have helped us with our injuries at the moment, but I always believe if you are going to win it, you have to beat the best teams at some stage.”
While Saints are now Super League’s dominant team, Rhinos are rebuilding after some tough years.
Their current injury crisis has given the likes of Corey Hall and Jack Broadbent an opportunity at the top level and Long said: “They have always had a great youth system at Leeds, as well as at Wigan and St Helens.
“We have also got some quality players who are injured at the moment, who would get in any starting lineup in Super League.
“We are missing a few, but it’s a good club to be at. If we can keep chipping away and drip feeding those guys, like Jack and Corey, in and have a good performance, it helps with their growth.
“You are not coming in and getting beaten every week, you’re coming in and having a good performance and you are playing alongside quality players as well.
“They get a bit more confidence out of that and, to be fair, those young kids have trained all pre-season and they are confident lads.”
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