'Chilled' Long keen to show club vintage

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The Independent Online

Sean Long gets the chance early tomorrow morning to lay to rest his reputation as a great club player who has never quite succeeded at international level. The St Helens scrum-half faces New Zealand in the Tri-Nations here at the height of his powers, with his best-ever domestic season behind him.

"I'm more mature as a person and as a player," said Long, as the Great Britain team arrived on the South Island. "I'm a lot more chilled and I feel my game has come on leaps and bounds under Daniel Anderson. I think I have always played pretty well for St Helens. I can't tell you why I've not played as well in internationals, but I've got my chance now."

Long gets that chance alongside the young player he might well regard as his partner of choice - the Leeds stand-off Danny McGuire. The two have lined up together for Great Britain on three occasions, twice in 2004 and again in this year's one-off Test against the Kiwis, and have been on the winning side each time.

"Danny's a great player and we've hit it off in training again this week, gelling together and getting communication with each other."

Lines of communication are also open again between Long and Terry Newton, whose tackle ended both their seasons in 2005 - Long's with a badly broken cheekbone and Newton's with a lengthy suspension.

It took him a long time to accept Newton's apology for that incident, although it is forgiven and forgotten now. "We've both put it to one side now," Long said. "It was just one of those things that happened and me and Terry are good friends again. We've kissed and made up."

It goes without saying that Great Britain need all the unity of purpose they can muster against a Kiwi side eager, after two defeats by Australia, for a victory to kick-start the defence of their title.

"They're desperate for a win, but so are we," said the British coach, Brian Noble. "We were very disappointed with the way we started last year's [Tri-Nations] and we want to start a whole lot better."

Last year, an under-prepared Great Britain team lost to the Kiwis at Loftus Road and never fully recovered their momentum. This time, everything has been geared to making the right sort of start, including a warm-up game in Newcastle and a much criticised decision to base the party in Sydney.

"To have any chance of achieving what we want to, we've had to give ourselves the best possible scenario," explained Noble, denying any intended slight to New Zealand.

Noble has still to announce the precise make-up of his bench, with Jon Wilkin the most likely of the five possible substitutes to miss out.

One decision made this week was the one to play Sean O'Loughlin in the potential problem position of loose forward, despite an uneven season with the Wigan side Noble took over in mid-campaign.

"He played pretty well toward the back end and in the Newcastle game," Noble said. "There were several options with people fighting for their preferred positions, but he deserves his shot."

The Kiwis coach, Brian McClellan, said he has not been surprised by any of Noble's selections and does not buy in to any talk of "win or bust" for his team in Christchurch's Jade Stadium. "We've improved during our first two games. If we carry on improving, we'll be pretty hard to beat," he said. "We're not even thinking about losing."

Hull's Kiwi, Motu Tony, is expecting a tough fight though and is adamant there is plenty of talent within Noble's squad.

"They've been saying they haven't had any serious games in the build-up to the Test on Saturday but these guys have been training the whole year," said Tony. "This squad of players has been together for quite a few years now.

"Out of all the Tri-Nations squads they've probably been the most stable. They've used pretty much the same core of players over the past couple of years."

Tony, who was part of the Hull side beaten by St Helens in the Grand Final, is excited to have another shot at the Lions after they soundly beat the Kiwis 46-14 at Knowsley Road in the summer.

"They had a hit out against us in June and they beat us convincingly," he said. "We were missing a few troops that day. Things should be a bit different on Saturday night."

Tony, who will start on the bench, said the squad had had little time to dwell on their narrow 20-15 defeat in Melbourne last Saturday.

"The boys were gutted after the Melbourne game," he said. "Not many teams are ahead of Australia with 10 minutes to go. We had a bit of a sulk on Saturday night but then we had to start getting ready for Great Britain."

* The World Club Championship between St Helens and the Brisbane Broncos is to be held in England, probably at Liverpool Football Club's Anfield ground, on 23 February.

Christchurch teams

New Zealand

1 Webb (Warriors)

2 Tupou (Broncos)

3 Vagana (Roosters)

4 Soliola (Rabbitohs)

5 Vatuvei (Warriors)

6 Ropati (Warriors)

7 Jones (Catalans)

8 Wiki (Warriors; capt)

9 Fien (Warriors)

10 Asotasi (Bulldogs)

11 Kidwell (Storm)

12 Pritchard (Panthers)

13 Mannering (Warriors)

Replacements: Tony (Hull); N Cayless (Eels); J Cayless (St Helens); Fa'alogo (Rabbitohs)

Great Britain

1 Wellens (St Helens)

2 Carney (Newcastle)

3 Martin Gleeson (Warrington)

4 Senior (Leeds)

5 Pryce (St Helens)

6 McGuire (Leeds)

7 Long (St Helens)

8 Fielden (Wigan)

9 Newton (Bradford)

10 Morley (Roosters)

11 Ellis (Leeds)

12 Peacock (Leeds: capt)

13 O'Loughlin (Wigan) Replacements: Roby (St Helens); Carvell (Hull); Hock (Wigan); Gilmour/Wilkin (both St Helens)

Referee: P Simpkins (Australia)

Kick-off: Tomorrow, 8am BST. TV: Live Sky Sport 3

Tri-Nations 2006

* Results: Sat 14 Oct: New Zealand 18 Australia 30; Sat 21 Oct: Australia 20 New Zealand 15.

* Fixtures: Tomorrow: New Zealand v Great Britain (Christchurch); Sat 4 Nov: Australia v Great Britain (Sydney); Sat 11 Nov: New Zealand v Great Britain (Wellington); Sat 18 Nov: Australia v Great Britain (Brisbane); Sat 25 Nov: Tri-Nations Final: 1st v 2nd (Sydney).