Photo courtesy of Mike Craig
After a much publicised switch to Rugby Union, league legend Sean Long will make his home debut for Preston Grasshoppers in this weekend’s National Two North league game with Hull Ionians (kick off 2.30pm). Sean made a surprise full debut in last weekend’s win at Stockport and scored an early try.
The Preston coaching staff took the decision to play Sean after suffering a number of injuries and unavailability’s in the build up to last weekend’s fixture. Speaking on the selection Gareth Dyer said on behalf of the Rugby Management “It was a no-brainer really. Once it became clear we were going to have a number of late fitness tests and with some players already ruled out it was sensible to use Sean. It had been discussed earlier in the week and Sean felt happy to play so the late decision was made on arriving in Stockport. Thankfully Sean came through the game without any problems and we look forward to him playing at Lightfoot Green this coming weekend”.
Speaking on his debut Sean said “I really enjoyed getting the boots back on again after five months out. I had some good players around me and they really helped me as I’m still learning the calls and the playing patterns. The try was a bonus really but having played with Holly (Graham Holroyd) for many years it was a play I knew and it was great that it came off”.
Certainly the Hoppers backs looked a potent force at Stockport on Saturday with three well worked tries and a number of good handling moves showing that the side is playing some entertaining rugby. The back three of Baines, Hughes and Taylor are certainly being brought into the game on every possible occasion with Head Coach Dave Baldwin pleased with the linking play behind the scrum. “Sean is a work in progress in terms of getting to understand the union code but his class and experience is obvious and his link with Graham and the outside backs gave us more continuity in attack. We have a lot to work on but I am encouraged by how we have come together”. So those coming to Lightfoot Green on Saturday will see a league legend still with a lot very much to offer. Having won everything in the league code it is clear that Sean just loves being out on the field with the lads, whether in training or in matches.
During his league career Sean played for Wigan, Widnes and Hull FC but of course it was with St. Helens where he really made his name. Having left his hometown club of Wigan to join Widnes, it became apparent that his talent would go a long way with many clubs interested in signing him.
In 1997 Sean was signed by the Saints as a replacement for the ageing Bobby Goulding and in the next 12 years he led Saints to every major honour in the game. During his time at Knowsley Road the side won four Super League Grand Finals, two World Club Challenges and five Challenge Cups. In 2000 Sean won the Man of Steel award being the accolade presented to the player who his fellow professionals deem to be the best over the course of a Super League season. In 2001, 2004 and 2006 Sean won the coveted Lance Todd Trophy having earned the Man of the Match award as Saints won the Challenge cup. In 2000 and 2006 he was selected in the Super League Dream Team whilst he also twice set the St. Helens record for the number of points scored in a Super League season, gaining 284 points in 1999 and 352 points in 2000.
He represented England at the 2000 Rugby League World Cup whilst his finest moment in the Great Britain shirt came in 2006 when he inspired the Lions to a 23-12 victory over Australia in Sydney, their first win there for 18 years.
Never a stranger to controversy Sean released his autobiography in 2009 in which he speaks openly and honestly about his life and rugby league. He clearly has affection for the game of rugby and believes without it he may have struggled to stay on the straight and narrow. In August 2011 he announced his retirement from professional Rugby League after a series of injuries disrupted his time with Hull FC. He subsequently has been appointed assistant coach to Matt Parrish at Salford City Reds and this is his main focus. Matt was an interested spectator at Stockport on Saturday and certainly gave Sean some food for thought on where he thinks he can improve for the Hoppers!
Preston Grasshoppers are delighted that Sean has joined them and hope that Sean really enjoys his time with the club. The first couple of weeks have seen a good relationship established and the squad have been keen to learn from him. The website will bring some further pieces from Sean himself as we build up to Saturday and hopefully a large crowd will be in attendance to see him make his home debut.
Speaking on the match Dyer said “As a proud Prestonian it’s been a bit of a lean time over the last few years on the Preston sporting front. North End are rebuilding after relegation whilst Preston CC have struggled to make any impression on the Northern League. We are showing signs of improvement and are playing an entertaining brand of rugby which I am sure the regular followers of the club are enjoying watching. I would encourage the Preston sporting public to come down to Lightfoot Green on Saturday to see Sean and watch a legend in the flesh. His arrival has been well received throughout the game and as he becomes more accustomed to the intricacies of the game I have no doubt his influence will be there for all to see”.