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Maverick Long ends colourful playing career

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George Riley George Riley | 14:17 UK time, Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Sean Long retires as one of most successful and controversial players in the modern era of rugby league.

Having won every individual and team honour in the club game, the former Great Britain scrum-half steps into the shadows of the sport as one of its greats. He will also be remembered as one of its most colourful, controversial and enigmatic characters.

The 34-year-old is hoping fans remember him as a "maverick". It was his brilliance on the pitch, and unpredictability off it, that will cement his place in rugby league folklore. At St Helens he is already a legend.

Long eats, drinks, sleeps and sweats rugby league. I spent last Saturday in Warrington with him watching his old side St Helens lose to Wigan in their Challenge Cup semi-final.

His commentary of every aspect of the game went almost unpunctuated throughout the 80 minutes. His reaction at the final hooter to his former team's defeat also served as a powerful reminder that Saints rugby league still pulses through his veins.

The former Hull FC half-back had a resigned look in his eye as he promised an announcement this week, and we all knew what was coming; the end of a golden career highlighted by 12 stunning years at St Helens where he won just about everything.

"I'm nervous," admitted Long, as we chatted on the phone moments after he went public with the news of his retirement. "I'm in shock and upset that I won't play again but I think now is the right time."

Long has called time on a glittering career. Photo: Getty


After leaving his beloved St Helens in 2009, injury has increasingly restricted his influence at Hull FC. The current problem, a dislocated shoulder, had already ended his season. He is adamant there is at least another year in him at the top level, but has instead opted to accept an exciting coaching role, although it is not yet known where.

"I feel I was playing pretty well before the injury so I could have got fit and played Super League elsewhere," added Long. "My shoulder would be right by October so I could have had a good pre-season and got myself a job for another team."

So why quit when he knows he is still performing at the top level? We are, after all, told that age should be no barrier if you are good enough.

"Well let's say I played for one more year," he explains. "Then maybe the coaching job I'm taking wouldn't be available then.

"I don't want to play for another year and have people saying 'look at this old chap, he's busted up and playing on when he should have retired'. I'd hate to get that off the fans after a pretty good career and I hope people remember that side of me rather than the other side."

In all honesty fans will remember both sides of Long. On the pitch a brilliant playmaker, game-breaker and match-winner. A player with confidence and arrogance to attempt the sublime, when often the mundane was the wiser call. It was a rare gift that landed him a record three Lance Todd trophies as the man-of-the-match in a Challenge Cup final, along with four Super League titles.

But the 2000 Man of Steel will be remembered for creating controversy off the field.

Long was banned for three months in 2004 when he and Saints team-mate Martin Gleeson admitted betting £1000 on their own team to lose to Bradford. The pair knew they would have a weakened side out, and Saints were thrashed 54-8. Gleeson played, Long did not.

Two years later Long quit a Great Britain tour in Australia and flew home on his own, seemingly in disgrace. He tells me he still regrets both incidents hugely.

"At first I probably didn't have any regrets," he admits. "I was selfish and foolish. Now I regret putting the bet on, obviously. It was very foolish, I was young at the time."

Long says the second incident was misguided rather than malicious.

"Coming home from the tour, I should've stuck it out. I was actually injured and probably couldn't have played in the last game against Australia but I should have stayed together with the boys, been united and come home together. I didn't. You learn from your mistakes and hopefully I have."

Long's retirement leaves just four British players in Super League who were around before the modern era of the game was introduced in 1996. Adrian Morley, Paul Johnson, Nick Fozzard and Keith Senior (provided he can find a club) fly the flag for the old guard. But what legacy does Long leave?

"I hope fans will say I was a genuine bloke, a good honest bloke, who enjoys a good time," he said. "I hope they remember me as a bit of a maverick on the field, and a great team-mate to have in the camp.

"Oh and a pretty good player as well! If they say all those things I'd be made up and may buy them a pint."

Something tells me Long's wallet will probably stay in his pocket. He won't have a shortage of punters offering to buy him a pint in the St Helens area.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    "I was young at the time" ?!?! You were 27, man - hardly a naive 18 year old. Good player, no doubt, but equally a quite spectacular disaster area off it in many respects.

  • Comment number 2.

    I read his autobiography. Its the funniest autobiography I've read since i read Perry Groves one. If he's ever in Dublin I'll buy him a pint. He sounds like he'd be a great laugh. Top man.

  • Comment number 3.

    Almost universally loathed by everyone outside Mersyside: good player, but a bad ambassador for the game. Personally I won't miss him & whatever this coaching job is, I hope it's for the Lebanese reserves, then perhaps we can forget about him for a while.

  • Comment number 4.

    What's this George? A blog with no mention of Leeds, Castleford or Harlequins? I'm stunned!

    As for Long, great player, exactly the type of player Hull needed and a shame they couldn't get him out on the field more.

  • Comment number 5.

    Sad to hear about Longy retiring. It must have been a really difficult decision for him as it is so obvious that he lives and breathes rugby league. He was a wonderful player - loved his killer drop goals, especially against Warrington! - and I would love someone of his ilk to appear at Saints again as we don't really have anyone like him at present. What a Saints legend he is. I hope he is as successful in his coaching career as he was in his playing career. I would definitely buy him a pint! Thanks for all the memories Longy!

  • Comment number 6.

    100% RL, what a star...have a great retirement...thanks for the entertainment, mainly on the pitch !!

  • Comment number 7.

    Great player, great guy, tells it how it is. The robbie Savage of Rugby league (but better). but if i see him out, he can buy me a pint!! he earn's more than me!

  • Comment number 8.

    Sean Long is a legend breathed RL and after reading his autobiography i was endeared to him even more, a funny down to earth northern jack the lad who played hard and partied hard, Although a wire fan it was great just to watch him in his pomp made the game look easy and lit up Wembely every time he played there and won me a few quid too :O) All the best Sean in you new role

  • Comment number 9.

    'Maverick' is a kind word for someone who was certainly a very good player at times, but self-obsessed and a disgrace to our sport. Rather a pathetic attempt to rewrite history on Long's behalf: he can't explain away his behaviour by pleading that he was young, when he was a well-established player. The incidents quoted recently are but a few of the many. I saw him at Warrington's Lego Stadium on Saturday and was surprised that someone with his scally appearance was allowed near the press box. Not an ambassador for the game in any way, shape or form.

  • Comment number 10.

    As a Wakey fan, I am glad he is not coming to us as an Assistant coach.
    He was a great player, but I can't imagine him being a particularly good coach as he is too much of an individual on & off the pitch.
    I do think he brought the game into disrepute on a couple of occasions, although I think Saints did a few times when he was at his peak.
    They pulled a few stunts with fielding second teams to prepare for bigger games (which was most definately against the rules - and was unfair, as it gave wins to teams who were involved in relegation scraps), one thing they did which I thought made us look poor was to field a team so poor as to lose a cross-code challenge.
    Come to think of it, don't want Millward at Wakey either.
    Long has gone where all old saints go - Salford

  • Comment number 11.

    A super league legend but similar to Cunningham never left his comfort zone and went to the NRL or had an impact on the international stage, therefore will never be a 'great' or international class

  • Comment number 12.

    i've met sean and he is a decent lad (although not the brightest) and i can say he learned his skill, quality and guile as a Wigan player, then learned how to disgrace himself and the game at St Helens

  • Comment number 13.

    I agree with Sumo82 on this one, Longy might have won trophies and made his name at Saints but he became an absolute disgrace to society after getting led astray in the betting scandle by Kieran Cunningham and the bad influence in his personal life not helped by Paul Sculthorpe. Sean is a good man and as just made some bad descisions, i think if he would have stayed at Wigan or gone to warrington or bradford or leeds he would have been standing there now as much as a legend as Darren Lockyer but all he will be remembered for is the scandles and dodgy hairstyles!

  • Comment number 14.

    always enjoyed watching Longy- great player and an entertainer but 1 thing he shouldnt have won was that 3rd Lance Todd award, Jon Wilkin was the man of the match that day- most saints fans would agree in my opinion- it was just the papers creating a story for themselves from a dull and predicatable game- not that it really matters
    best moment was the drop goal to beat Bradford in the Grand final-

  • Comment number 15.

    I think George that Sean Long was a very good player who had some great matches rather than a great player. It's all subjective of course but I just never saw him consistent enough to rank up with the great half backs in the world despite seeing him play magnificently in big games like the Grand Final and Challenge Cup final. Internationally he was perhaps unlucky to be up against "greats" like Andrew Johns or Brett Kimmorley when playing Australia or the great Stacey Jones when playing New Zealand and he never looked in the same league as these guys though he wouldn't be alone there.

    Flying home from Australia early I think was understandable as his partner had given birth before the tour so he got homesick and facts like he played on with an eye injury that prevented him playing in daylight in case it burnt his eye out, says volumes about how much he loved the game. The betting scandal was a disgrace and he was rightly punished for it, and in truth his haircuts got him noticed more than his play in recent years.

    Enjoy your retirement Longy and hope the coaching job allows you to pass on what you've learnt!

  • Comment number 16.

    It's good to know that he's not going to be lost to the game. Salford have to be congratulated for giving him a chance in coaching.

    I suppose old Sean must be the last of the St Helens legends to retire. What a team they had with Tommy Martyn, Cunningham and Sculthorpe. Such entertainers. We're not going to see the likes of those for a very long time. It is in part a shame that none of them tried the NRL but then again we were so lucky to have them over here. Thanks for the memories Sean and Co.

  • Comment number 17.

    long was good for the game and he will make a good coach good luck

  • Comment number 18.

    Long was a great player from Saints most of the negative comments made come from Wigan and Warrington fans, a touch of the green eyed monster me thinks. No player is perfect and all clubs have had controversial players in there ranks, currently Hock and Joel Monaghan, labelling Long a disgrace is overblown and faintly rediculous.

  • Comment number 19.

    stackchimp... I understand your comments on Hock, but what has Joel Monaghan done wrong????

  • Comment number 20.

    Stackchimp i think your showing a bit bitter with your comments on Hock and Joel Monaghan there, if i remember rightly didnt Longy purposley bet £1000 each on there own side to lose against Bradford as they knew they were fielding a depleted side? And Saints lost 54-8. That is certainly not overblown or ridicoulous when criticised. Hock simply had a night out were he got a bit giddy and decided he would do a robbie fowler and monaghan was just having a good time (what ever tickles your fancy?). These two cases didnt relate to rugby in general at all.

  • Comment number 21.

    Isnt Long a filthy gambler?! whats the problem with Joel Monaghan???

  • Comment number 22.

    He was loathed by opposition fans because they feared him, just like a certain full back who plays for Wigan now! Great Super League player, but I agree he underperformed at international level so he will never be considered a true great of the game worldwide. Sadly his form had been on the slide for several years and I think he has chosen the right time to quit. Won't be the last we hear of him though.

  • Comment number 23.

    Naughty boy ....great player...wish him luck kkk......kkk....Not Betting on this are you?

  • Comment number 24.

    Honestly the bitterness from Warrington and Wigan fans is laughable! Didn't Wigan offer Longy a decent contract to come and sign for Wigan again? Didn't Briers get sacked off by Saints in favour of Longy?
    Sean Long may not be everyone's cup of tea but one thing is for sure there will be no better player to come out of super league with more success than him and you can throw Tomkins in that one as well.
    True legend.

  • Comment number 25.

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