An email conversation with Sean Long: 'This is the best Saints team I've played in. That's a big statement'

Preparing for Hull in the Super League Grand Final; Getting up for the Tri-Nations Down Under; What it takes to win a third Lance Todd Trophy; Jamming with Jimi Hendrix and Johnny Vegas
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The Independent Online

St Helens have had a great year, winning the Challenge Cup and topping the Super League. How vital is it to win Saturday's Grand Final against Hull to validate your league dominance? Very. There is pressure on us because a few people in our team, myself included, have said this is the best Saints team we've ever played in, which is a big statement. It's also important that we win it after last year, when we finished top and came away with nothing. Hull are a really strong, honest side with a good work rate and excellent defence.

Your own season has been groundbreaking, not least in winning the Lance Todd Trophy, for a record third time, in the Challenge Cup final win over Huddersfield. What's so special about that award, as opposed to winning the Man of Steel as player of the year in 2000? Ever since being a kid I've watched the Challenge Cup final, and each year only one player out of 34 gets to pick up the Lance Todd Trophy. As a kid I watched some great players pick it up: Ellery Hanley, Andy Gregory, Martin Offiah and Brett Kenny, the first one I remember. They're all Wigan players! Some legendary names at Saints have won it as well: Kel Coslett, Geoff Pimblett, Tommy Martyn. You don't realise what a big deal it is until you win it, then you just want it again and again. The Man of Steel was good because you've got to play consistently well throughout the season to get that recognition. It's a big thing, but the Challenge Cup is the best cup competition in the world.

What does it say about the strength of domestic talent, if anything, that 10 of the 13 Super League Dream Team for 2006 were British? Everyone is moaning about the overseas players but the nucleus of players at St Helens has always been British, which is what is good about our team. We've also had great players that have come in: Jamie Lyon, Jason Cayless, Jason Hooper, Francis Meli. I'm glad most of the team were British and you could have put a couple more in there, like Baloo [Paul Anderson].

St Helens have just launched their own gaming website, on which fans can play poker, bingo and casino games against players, as happened with the poker tournament launch. Are gambling and cards a routine part of your leisure time? I play three times a week and then we all get together once and go round to someone's house, mine or Scully's [Paul Sculthorpe], and we'll play face to face. Scully's a regular contributor to my wallet at the end of the night! We're all good mates, good friends off the field. That makes the team tick and I think explains why we're getting a lot of success this year on the field. I play poker online a couple of times a week. It takes my mind off rugby and you get a bit of a buzz when you win.

What's the most expensive gamble you've ever had? It's well known that I had a bet in 2004 on Bradford to beat us [when St Helens played a weak side due to injuries and rested players]. I didn't know I was breaking the rules, and placed a bet of £1,000 to win £909. But when you add my punishment [a fine of £7,500 and costs of £2,205], my ban [a three-month suspension], my legal fees, and my lost wages, it actually cost me around £50,000. I was daft and I've learnt from my mistake. My biggest win was £4,000 in one evening playing poker.

Amid the media furore when the betting story broke, you and Martin Gleeson, who also had a bet, and your wife, Claire, went into hiding in a caravan in Blackpool, owned by Paul Sculthorpe. Nice break? No, it was terrible! Me and Glees sneaked out of the caravan - it was sending us over the edge - and the first bloke we saw had a Castleford shirt on. He looked at us, looked at his wife and just started pointing! Blackpool's good for a stag do or a night out with all the boys. But it definitely doesn't make my top five holiday destinations.

Had you been on a caravan holiday before? And where, for that matter, is your favourite holiday destination? I went to the Maldives for my honeymoon in January, which was absolutely amazing. We spent a week on Royal Island and were treated like royalty. It was a bit better than a caravan. I used to go on caravan holidays as a kid. It was good fun but it's not the best weather.

The Tri-Nations starts Down Under the same day as the Grand Final, with New Zealand v Australia in Auckland. Great Britain get involved from 28 October. What are your hopes and expectations? Hopes: to win the Tri-Nations and that I have a good series myself. Expectations: to get to the final. We've got to get to the final and play better than we did in 2004, when we got smashed by Australia.

You have credited the St Helens coach, Daniel Anderson, with allowing you to play your own game. How do Anderson and Ian Millward, your former Saints manager, compare as personalities and coaches? Daniel is a modern coach, he makes the players make the decisions. We play what's on, we play with our own eyes. It's you that takes the field and you that has to come up with the plays. Daniel is more laid-back off the field, his man-management is really good. Basil [Millward] liked to have the craic, telling jokes, stuff like that. Daniel lets you play what you see, Basil was more focused on plays and you had to remember them.

You have also admitted that your domestic form has often failed to translate on to the international stage. Why will this autumn be different? Since Daniel has come in he's given me a lot of responsibility and I like it. I've risen to the challenge. I've matured, got a family and settled down, and I'm enjoying my rugby. I take control of St Helens and guide them round the field and, hopefully, I can carry that into the internationals.

Which three sports, in order of preference, do you most like to watch as a spectator? Rugby league first, boxing second and football. My dad was a good boxer when he was a kid so I was brought up on boxing, although I never did much myself. It's up there with the toughest sports in the world. In rugby we've got friends to back us up. You're on our own in the ring.

Who are harder: league or union players? And do you envisage making the switch at any stage? They're tough in rugby union - Martin Johnson and Lawrence Dallaglio are solid - but we've got some solid players, and fitter. They're not as fit as us, nowhere near. When the union guys come and play league they struggle to find their feet for the first six months. Rugby union is a very different game. I find it pretty hard to see a position for me.

What's most painful: having your cheekbone broken in three places, as happened last year, or having a massive tattoo? Having my cheekbone broken, without a doubt. My face is still numb. It was bad pain, I felt like I'd been hit by a brick. Tattoos are addictive. The angel on my back took about five hours in two sittings. The last half-hour was a bit painful.

What was the last book you read? Any good? The autobiography of Anthony Kiedis, from the Red Hot Chili Peppers. He's a bit mad, a proper rock star, but it's a cracking story. Sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll straight from the first page. I might have fancied being a rock star but I'd probably be dead by now if I was. I'd be Jim Morrison, I'd be dead at 27.

To celebrate a major victory, you can host a dinner party for six people, from any time in history, any walk of life, famous or not. Who? Why? What do you eat and drink? As well as me, I'd have Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Elvis Presley, Muhammad Ali and Johnny Vegas, to entertain us. After dinner, I'd get involved with them, jamming. It would be great to have all those legends playing music. I play the acoustic guitar. There would be drink everywhere and loads of women trying to get into the place because they've found Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison are there. But not for Johnny Vegas, obviously! We'd drink lots of champagne and Magners and have a load of seafood, prawns and dips that we can all nibble at while we are drinking and jamming.

St Helens' new gaming website, the first club-branded site in rugby league, can be found at www.saintsgaming.com

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