All eyes are on Sean Long ahead of the 2023 Betfred Championship season as the legendary former Super League player takes his first crack as a head coach with title favourites Featherstone Rovers.
The one-time St Helens superstar, who won three Lance Todd Trophies in a glittering career which also saw him contribute to five Challenge Cup triumphs and four Super League Grand Final wins, has spent the last 11 years gathering coaching experience with spells as assistant at Saints, Salford Red Devils, Harlequins and Leeds Rhinos.
And after succeeding Brian McDermott as the man in charge at Post Office Road after a poor end to 2022 saw them fail to reach the Betfred Championship Grand Final, Long insists he is more than ready for the challenge of leading Featherstone’s promotion challenge.
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“I’ve been ready for a while, it’s just taking that next step and challenging myself,” Long tells The Sportsman. “I didn’t want to just get comfortable, so when Featherstone rang me up I jumped at the opportunity to be the head coach.
“It’s different to being an assistant, but I’m loving my time at Featherstone. They’ve been great with me – the fans and the owner – and the players are really buying into what we’re trying to achieve.
“They had a really good squad in 2022 and I think we’ve added quality to our squad in 2023 which makes, ultimately, competition for places and everyone’s been given a lift. It’s a long season, we’re going to need those players, we’ve got a big squad and everyone will play a part in it.”
Those additions include Toulouse Olympique’s Chris Hankinson, Salford’s Elijah Taylor and Wakefield Trinity’s Welsh World Cup star Kyle Evans, making Rovers the bookie’s favourites in a tightly-bunched race for a Super League spot in 2024.
And Long says he’s ready to be his own man despite gathering vital experience under a number of his former bosses.
“I’ve learned a lot from my ex-coaches like Daniel Anderson, how he managed the team at St Helens with a really good quality side, I’ve taken some inspiration from him. And then obviously working with Richard Agar, Justin Holbrook and coaches like that you pick up pieces from each one.
“But ultimately I’m my own coach, I’m not trying to mimic anyone. I’m Sean, I’m down to earth, I like to work hard, the players like to work hard and we have fun.
“We pride ourselves on hard work and what we do in the community, and if the fans can see that we’re working hard for each other and tipping in each week, win, lose or draw, I’m sure they’ll get behind us.
“The standard’s gone through the roof in training, everyone’s fighting for a spot. We don’t have to flog one player all the time and risking him burning out, we’ve got players who can come in and do a job equally as well.”
Featherstone begin their promotion challenge on Monday night away to newly-promoted Keighley Cougars in a game which will be screened line on Viaplay Sports 1.
*18+ | BeGambleAware | Odds Subject to Change