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Sean Long relishing challenge of steering Oldham back towards Super League

Sean Long is looking forward to leading Oldham in League One next season (Mike Egerton/PA)
Sean Long is looking forward to leading Oldham in League One next season (Mike Egerton/PA)

Former Super League star Sean Long says he has shrugged off the disappointment of his exit from Featherstone and is focused on the even more ambitious task of steering Oldham back towards rugby league’s top flight.

One of the most decorated players of his generation, who won five league titles and five Challenge Cups with St Helens, Long finds himself plotting a route which will include stops in the likes of Cornwall and Colwyn Bay next season.

But the 47-year-old, whose stellar on-field success was often matched by lurid tales of his exploits off it, insisted he had lost none of his enthusiasm and was determined to restore the good times to a club that had languished in the lower reaches since they last exited Super League in 1997.

Rugby League – engage Super League – Castleford Tigers v Hull FC – The Jungle
Sean Long made his name in a high-profile playing career with Wigan and St Helens (Anna Gowthorpe/PA)

“I’ve never lost my appetite for it,” Long told the PA news agency. “I loved my time as head coach at Featherstone and when Oldham came in for me, I was over the moon. I like challenging myself and the vision for the whole club really appealed to me.”

If leading Featherstone back into the top flight appeared a near-certainty for much of last season – until they flopped in the play-offs with Long long gone – the task of resurrecting Oldham’s fortunes is a far greater one.

Having languished in League One for each of the last two seasons, a takeover backed by former player Mike Ford in October has dramatically restored the club’s expectations, heralding a return to Boundary Park and a clear and stated intention to return to the top level of the game.

For Long, who recalls playing against Oldham in his early days with Wigan, the expectation will eclipse that at Rovers, whose decision to dispense with his services in March, when they led the second tier by eight points, caused surprisingly little bad feeling.

“Anything can happen in sport – one minute you’re in a job, the next you’re not,” shrugged Long. “These things happen and I’m going to keep doing things my way.

“This club’s been in the doldrums a bit but it’s got some big long-term ambitions. We’re not counting our chickens, because things can happen in rugby league which you aren’t prepared for and my job is to keep the standards high every week.”

The extent of Oldham’s ambition was emphasised by the close-season signing of Joe Wardle, a 32-year-old with plenty of Super League experience who was playing an integral role in Leigh’s return to the top flight until his campaign was curtailed by injury in September.

For Wardle it was a surprisingly easy decision to swap Super League life for the prospect of long road trips to face the likes of Midlands Hurricanes and North Wales Crusaders and he sees a comparison in the way his former club also re-invented themselves as a successful outfit.

Rugby League – Super League – Huddersfield Giants v Castleford Tigers – John Smith’s Stadium
Joe Wardle will bring his immense Super League experience to Oldham (Lynne Cameron/PA)

“I’ve been part of a rebuild club before and I’ve seen how well it can work,” said Wardle.

“When I spoke to Mike, it just fitted the bill. Everyone asks about me moving two leagues down, but I can see the vision of this club. The plan is to get back to Super League and that made it a pretty easy decision.

“It was hard to leave Leigh because I had some great times there, but I definitely see similarities. Leigh are the kind of club everyone should be aspiring to learn from. I’m here for the start of the journey with Oldham and hopefully it’s going to be a successful one.”