Long prepares for comeback

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The Independent Online

Sean Long will make the most eagerly-awaited comeback of the pre-season when he plays for St Helens in their friendly against Widnes next Monday.

The Great Britain scrum-half has been out of action since rupturing his knee against Huddersfield last May. He had two reconstructive operations and missed the Test series against Australia, but has now declared himself ready to play again.

"The knee feels fine now and I can't wait to return," said Long, who has come home from warm weather training with Saints in Spain. "I've never been so excited about playing in a pre-season friendly."

The Salford hooker, Malcolm Alker, has been told that he must continue to serve his three-match suspension, imposed for fighting in the final Super League match of last season, in the Challenge Cup. Alker has been allowed one pre-season friendly against his ban, but none of Great Britain's Tests against Australia, for which he could have come into contention had he not been suspended. "He was not selected, so those games cannot be counted," said a Rugby League spokesman.

Meetings were taking place yesterday to finalise a severance deal for Greg McCallum, the RFL's director of rugby, who returned from holiday this week to find his office had been cleared. McCallum is the highest-profile victim of a staffing purge at the League's headquarters.

Toulouse have submitted a formal application for membership of Super League in 2003. They would be the first French representatives since Paris St Germain in 1997, whilst the Perpignan club, UT Catalan, is also considering a bid.

Three members of the Great Britain and Ireland Students Under-18 side have been offered a chance in Australia's National Rugby League. Despite losing 50-10 to Penrith Panthers last weekend, the Halifax-based hooker, Adam Carroll, and the wingers, John Breakingbury from Wales and Ireland's Carl de Chenu, impressed enough to have been offered trials.