The “awful” Old Trafford memories of losing against Leeds will never go away for St Helens legend Sean Long.
But now as Rhinos assistant coach, he’s hoping to finally win at the Theatre of Dreams again and celebrate his 46th birthday in surreal circumstances. The enigmatic ex-Great Britain scrum-half was part of the Saints side who painfully lost three successive Super League Grand Finals to the West Yorkshire club from 2007 to 2009. Long played almost 350 Saints games and won trophies galore but was sick of the sight of Leeds by the end.
As the famous rivals meet on Saturday night for a fifth time in a Super League decider, the irony he’s now helping plot another potential Saints’ downfall is not lost on him. Long conceded: “It was a weird one going over to coach Leeds with the history we’ve got between the two clubs. But, to be fair, the staff, fans and players are brilliant.
“To now go back and coach against my former team, it is strange. It was awful when we lost those three Grand Finals on the bounce. Awful. Leeds were the ones we always wanted to beat. But we couldn’t. We failed at the final hurdle. I’d won four Grand Finals and in ‘07 we were favourites but we just got out-enthused.
“And coming off that field after my last-ever game for St Helens in ‘09, I did everything I could to get that win but it wasn’t enough. That, really, is how Leeds Rhinos started their Golden Generation journey. I was a part of that. Just on the opposite end!”
If Leeds win on Saturday and edge ahead of Saints with a record-extending nine Grand Final wins, it’ll arguably be their finest yet given they were worried about relegation just a few months ago.
Their opponents, the League Leaders and favourites, are seeking their own piece of history: becoming the first club to claim four successive Super League titles. And they have won their last 11 meetings against Leeds who haven’t defeated them since 2018 when Long was then Saints boss Justin Holbrook’s assistant.
He said: “I know Saints. They are aggressive in defence and force you to do things you don’t normally do. I don’t think they’ll deviate from that plan. They’re not going to change for one game. We know what they’re going to do.
“They are tough to beat. But we’ll have a few tricks up our sleeve. And in two of those three Grand Finals with St Helens we went in as favourites only to lose…It’s mad how it’s landed on my birthday this year. I’m looking forward to it. We all are. We’re prepped.”