Sean Long’s storied rugby league journey took another emphatic twist on Monday as he kicked off his competitive coaching career by inspiring Featherstone to a 50-0 wipe-out of newly-promoted Keighley in the Betfred Championship.
Barely hovering above freezing, Cougar Park may have seemed a world away from the Super League summers in which Long starred as a player, driving St Helens to four titles and five Challenge Cups, and reining in his off-field antics long enough to snare a prestigious Man of Steel Award.
Since arriving at Featherstone in his first head coaching role last year, Long has worked to energise a squad left stunned by last year’s shock play-off semi-final loss to Batley, sweeping them to pre-season victories over Hull KR and Castleford.
And the Rovers resurgence continued under his charge as they ran in nine tries to flap aside the challenge of a team who had surged to promotion with a 100 per cent record last season, and added the likes of another former Man of Steel, Luke Gale, to their spine.
“We came here today and they probably thought they were going to beat us, because they’re in a winning habit,” Long told the PA news agency. “It was great for us to come and knock it out of them within 25 minutes, and it wasn’t anything flashy it was just grit and determination.”
Five tries in the first half-hour effectively ended what had threatened to be a tricky opening assignment, with two from Rovers’ new half-back Riley Dean, on a season-long loan from Warrington, easing them to a 28-point advantage at the interval.
The relentless pressure continued after the break, with Gareth Gale also completing a double to put the seal on a success that bodes well in their quest to bring an end to almost half a decade of promotion heartbreak, not that Long will be getting carried away.
“They are really buying into the culture and the DNA of the club, and where we want to go, because there are a lot of tougher tests to come down the road,” added Long.
“But it didn’t feel any different for me out there. I was having a great time. Game day is always the best day and nothing changes when you’re on the other side of the line.”