Smith steps into Long's boots in style

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The Independent Online

One thing the St Helens coach, Daniel Anderson, will have gleaned from his side's hard-fought victory over Leeds on Friday is that if they are still without Sean Long for the Super League Grand Final in two weeks' time, it will not necessarily be the end of the world.

Long has been a talisman for Saints in big games for the best part of a decade, so it looked to be a severe blow when he was ruled out of the qualifying semi-final with a hamstring injury.

Step up Matty Smith. The 20-year-old, who was once on Everton's books in the intake immediately after Wayne Rooney, showed his kicking skills not just with his three vital goals in a10-8 win, but also in general play. Better than that, he gave the sort of mature, all-round performance that suggested that, if Long has not recovered in time for Old Trafford on 13 October, he can get the job done.

"He has just kept coming up trumps for us all year," said Anderson, who has used him successfully during Long's previous absences. "We decided that if Sean was out, we needed a half-back playing at half-back, and Matty did that for us. I would not have any hesitation in using him at Old Trafford. If Sean is out, Matty will play."

Smith's contribution to a wonderful match was all the more remarkable for him not having played for six weeks because of a neck injury. Even in the toughest of battles there was no sign of any wariness from the latest graduate from Saints' Academy. His first pass and kick were not the best, but he did not let it affect his confidence and hardlyput a foot wrong after that.

Anderson was also full of praise for another up-and-comer likely to be involved at Old Trafford. Paul Clough has established himself in the first-team squad as a strong-running second-rower and has played in a Challenge Cup final. There was extra responsibility on his shoulders in the absence through injury of Maurie Fa'asavalu on Friday, and he stepped up a gear.

With players of the calibre of Steve Tyrer waiting in the wings, it is not just the next two weeks that are looking good for Saints, but the long-term future.