Sean Long: Leeds Rhinos can challenge for honours this year says assistant-coach

Assistant-coach Sean Long has tipped Leeds Rhinos to challenge for silverware this year.

By Peter Smith
Friday, 14th January 2022, 4:45 am

After two few seasons of rebuilding, following successive battles against relegation, Long reckons Rhinos’ new-look team are ready to go to the next level.

Long - who is beginning his second full season as boss Richard Agar’s number two - admits Rhinos aren’t yet the finished product, but insisted: “I really think we could push for trophies this year,”

The former Great Britain half-back said: “Obviously Saints and Catalans are the big dogs - and Warrington, with having Daryl [Powell, their new coach] and making a few new signings.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Rhinos' assistant-coach Sean Long. Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com.

“They are the front-runners, but I think we can push for a trophy.

“I will be disappointed if we don’t win a trophy this year.”

The Leeds team which faces Warrington Wolves in their Betfred Super League opener on February 12 will be much-changed from the one which ended last season.

Since the 36-8 play-offs semi-final loss to Saints on October 1, eight players have left the club with four - winger David Fusitu’a, half-backs Blake Austin and Aidan Sezer and second-rower James Bentley - coming in.

Sean Long, centre, with Rhinos boss Richard Agar, right and other assistant-coach Jamie Jones-Buchanan. Picture by Jonathan Gawthorpe.

Assessing the changes, Long said: “We have lost a few players, but the four we’ve brought in are quality.

“We have changed bits and adapted to our strengths, which are Austin and Sezer who have played together before.

“They have brought in their own little tweaks on attack, which we have given them freedom to do and everything looks good.”

The half-backs - both former Man of Steel nominees - are set to feature on Sunday at Featherstone Rovers in Rhinos’ second pre-season game.

James Bentley will add steel to Rhinos' pack, Sean Long reckons. Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com.

They have been the headline signings, but Long believes Bentley - a Grand Final winner two years ago - will have a major impact on Rhinos’ pack.

The Ireland international has joined his hometown club from St Helens on a two-year contract and Long said: “He has brought a bit of steel to us, to our defence and our mindset.

“We have got a good group of players at the moment, who are training really hard.

“I am not saying we are the finished article yet; we have got another three pre-season games - against Fev, Bradford and Hull - so there’s still things to iron out.

“But we did a training session [this week] when we did 13-on-13 and they went at each other.

“It was a really good contest.

“The skill was good, the intensity was good and everyone’s buzzing and in a good place at the moment.”

Full scale practice is something Rhinos weren’t able to do in the 2021 pre-season, when a succession of injuries left them struggling to get players on the field.

Half-back and captain Luke Gale tore a pectoral muscle in the first training session of pre-season and stand-off Rob Lui (calf) and full-back Jack Walker (foot) were among others who joined the long-term casualty list before the campaign began.

It is a different story now and Long said spirits are high among players and staff.

“The coaching staff are happy,” he said.

“Because of Covid last year we couldn’t really look after the lads, they had to get into training and get out. But now we’ve adapted our training facilities and everyone’s enjoying each other’s company, not just on the training paddock, but off the field as well.”

Support the YEP and become a subscriber today. You'll enjoy unlimited access to the latest on Leeds United, Leeds Rhinos, Castleford Tigers and Wakefield Trinity, as well as other West Yorkshire rugby league clubs. With our sports digital subscription, you'll also see fewer ads, enjoy faster load times and get exclusive content. Click here to subscribe.