Shackles off and Long can play with freedom

HULL FC'S Sean Long is relieved to be able to get back to doing what he does best – playing rugby league.

Such a statement could obviously be made about any player given, after a four-month hiatus, the imminent kick-off of the new Super League season.

However, for the ex-Great Britain star there is added emphasis.

Firstly, the injury problems which wrecked his first season in East Yorkshire are behind him but, more pertinently, he has recently relieved himself of the added burden of captaincy, handing over to Craig Fitzgibbon.

Long, 34, has temporarily led teams before during his stellar

career, most notably St Helens during some of their finest spells.

But he has always seemed like a man who was indifferent to the role and that is not meant in a

derogatory way.

In the modern professional era, the gifted playmaker simply appears a throwback to the days when people played for kicks.

Give him a ball, an open field and he will be off like a carefree child. It could breathe new life into Hull's hopes for 2011.

"This year it's my last year at Hull and I just want to look after myself," he told the Yorkshire Post.

"I want to concentrate on my game instead of worrying about other peoples'.

"I'm still going to do the same job but going to functions and off-the-field stuff, I don't actually need. I live in Wigan now. It's just an added burden which we can do without.

"I can concentrate on my own game, (coach) Rich (Agar) is fine with that, Fitzy's a great leader and I think it will work out for the better.

"The media stuff is all right but I'd sooner just be out there and getting on with the rugby."

Any lover of the sport will hope the ex-Man of Steel will be able to finish his rugby league odyssey giving full rein to the skills which have illuminated so many games over the last 15 years.

There is, however, no confirmation that this will definitely be his last season of football.

Unlike his former St Helens team-mate Keiron Cunningham, who pre-determined the culmination of his glittering career by announcing the date of his retirement at the start of last season, Long remains undecided.

"I'm different to Kez," he explained. "He'd already decided calling it a day while I'll decide halfway through with the body and form.

"Anything can happen and I want a big season with Hull to see whether I carry on or call it a day.

"I don't want to be playing rubbish and say I'll go round again. It's just not in my nature."

The frustrating elbow injury, which left him obviously out of sorts on his return just before the play-offs last season and was partially responsible for Hull's exit against Hull KR, is now healed and he is eagerly awaiting the opening match against those same opponents in Cardiff a week on Sunday.

"We've been training so long with no reward at the end of each week that we don't care who we play," added Long.

" Obviously they kicked us out of the play-offs and that hurts a little bit, don't get me wrong.

"But we're into a new season now and we've got to try and look after our own performance.

"They're a good team. There's not much between the two and that showed last year.

"I'm looking forward to it and it's better the derby's at the start of the season as it kicks off the whole thing with a bang."

Head coach Agar has spent much of the off-season looking for a further half-back to relieve the pressure on Long – who played just 15 Super League games last season – and long-serving

Richard Horne.

Although Crusaders' Jarrod Sammut remains in his sights, the move might not happen before the season begins, if at all.

Ex-Castleford back-row Joe Westerman – one of just two signings over the winter – may be forced into helping out but Long has no fears for the talented 21-year-old who reminds him of a young Paul Sculthorpe.

"Scully was very skilful, a good kicker, great hands and could play a bit of six as well," he said.

"If we need to we could play Joe a bit of six if one of us goes down and it's always good to have a back-rower with size who can pass the ball.

"He's got a great brain on him, skill and can kick the ball as well, and the lad has everything going for him.

"I'm really looking forward to playing alongside him.

"Players like that, when the going gets tough, can get you out of some strife.

"I don't think it'll be a settling in period for him this season; I think he'll have a big year."

Harlequins winger Will Sharp is the only other addition and Long feels that will work in Hull's

favour.

"We all got thrown together last year when we made a lot of new signings," he said.

"I was one of the main ones with Fitzy and I was kind of bossing the team around but they all know how I play now.

"I know where they play, who likes an early ball, what line they run. It's good we've kept the nucleus of the squad together and added two great signings in Westy and Sharpy.

"I think we'll be better this year if we stay injury-free."