SO here we are again, 10 years after saying farewell to Sean Long as a player we now must wave goodbye to the coach as one of the sport’s biggest characters packs up his box of tricks and transfers them to the 15-man code with Harlequins.

There will always be reasons for ambitious young coaches to move on – and Long follows the path into union beaten down by fellow Wiganers Andrew Farrell, Shaun Edwards and Shaun Wane.

It is a big loss to Saints and the sport of rugby league.

Long had found his feet again in the settled environment back at Saints after initially having something of a nomadic spell in coaching since hanging up his boots at Hull FC.

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That is not to say it was plain sailing at Saints, once he joined his former teammate Keiron Cunningham on the coaching staff in late 2014.

In the midst of the turmoil after Cunningham was shown the door in May 2017, some fans even expressed a view that there should be a wholesale clear out of the old boys. But all those staff – including Long - have flourished under Justin Holbrook, so much so that the argument is no longer raised.

And news of his immediate departure was greeted by genuine sadness from the support base who loved what he did as a player and were excited to see what he could do in nurturing the young team that Holbrook has helped build.

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When Long first joined Saints in 1997, at a bargain price of £80,000 from Widnes – having been discarded by his hometown Wigan - blistering pace and support play made him a stand-out prospect.

As he grew into the side, we quickly saw he had the temperament for the big game, and he was nerveless when he slotted a difficult two-pointer to help Saints win their first Grand Final in 99.

The trophies and individual award came thick and fast – another Grand Final win, the first of two World Club Challenges and his maiden Lance Todd in the 2001 win over Bulls.

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Alas, there were injuries too and in 2001 he suffered a season ending knee injury after being tackled after kicking the ball.

But he was back with a vengeance and again showed nerves of steel to nail the match winning drop goal to beat Bradford again in arguably one of the best ever Grand Finals.

No player revelled in adversity as much as Long – and the rugby he played in aftermath of the betting scandal of Easter 2004 when, despite the Sword of Damocles dangling above his head, he produced a masterful display in Cardiff to take his Lance Todd number two in the win over Wigan.

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And he did it with a smile on his face, too. At times could appear to be daft as a brush, whether it was ripping off St Bernard’s head after the Wide to West try or mooning on the town hall steps after another cup final win, but behind that jocular persona was a very shrewd, intelligent rugby player.

He was one with an ability to thrive on adversity – even when sometimes it was self-inflicted.

Whether it was hand-wringing editorials, barracking from the terraces or forearms to the face – Long rose above it.

He may have lost half a yard – but that had been replaced top two inches, as he matured from a quicksilver support player into a shot-calling, controlling half back.

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That leadership and maturity was there for all to see, when despite having his back end of the 2005 campaign ruined when Terry Newton smashed him in the face, the talisman bounced back to call the shots in that 2006 team of all talents.

What is more, despite having two metal plates in his face to repair that damage, Long continued to take the ball in to the teeth of the defensive line without a flicker of half-heartedness.

St Helens Star: Coach Daiel Anderson (right) watches Sean Long lift the Super League trophy

The club’s Grand Slam supremo Daniel Anderson singled Longy out as: “Basically the best player I have ever coached.” And tipped him to be a future coach.

And so he has, although alas it will be the other code that will now benefit from those years of accumulated knowhow and nous, and his inimitable wit.

I think all up here will wish Longy good luck in this next chapter – and thank him for the colourful contribution and priceless memories he has made since first stepping on to the Saints timeline.

And I am sure the door will always be open for a third time, especially if he continues to add strings to his bow in London, but for now it is ta-ra.

Picture gallery from Bernard Platt.

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