SAINTS are attempting to lure their scrum-half Matty Smith back to the club - but face a race for his signature with Wigan.
The 24-year-old Smith, an understudy to Long for four years at St Helens, has rejected a new contract from Salford City Reds after receiving more tempting offers from Wigan and St Helens, as well as Widnes, assistant coach Sean Long has revealed.
“It is a massive blow,” said Long, who was speaking at the launch of the ‘Best of British’ at Village Hotel in Ashton Moss in Manchester last night.
“When I came in he was playing nine and I said to him ‘Matty, you are not a nine - I want you to play seven and play on the ball’, similar to what I was doing at St Helens.
“So I have given him everything knowledge-wise that I have had and he is learning and has improved game by game.
“We were going to build the team around him - we even told him that we wanted him as captain in the coming years.
“But the situation is that other clubs could offer him more money and are bigger clubs.
“That is what happened with Stefan Ratchford last year. We just can’t keep hold of our big-name players and it is sad really.”
Long believes if Smith can continue his rate of improvement, he can go on to win full England honours.
“He is still learning the game,” he added. “He is in the Knights squad, which is great for him.
“I’ve always said he needs to take the line on a little bit more and once he does that, I think he’ll be in the England squad.”
Meanwhile, Smith remains committed to Salford for the rest of the season and will be a key figure in tonight’s home game against high-flying Catalan Dragons.
The French club have maintained their bid for a maiden Grand Final appearance with just one defeat in their last seven matches but the Reds will go into the game with renewed confidence after a 38-34 win over previous leaders Huddersfield.
“It is going to be a good game,” said Long. “They have a massive pack and some quality backs as well.
“They play a lot of off-the-cuff style and it is going to be difficult to defend that.
“But for us, the game plan is pretty much similar to what we did against Huddersfield - let’s not die wondering and give it a good shot, play some footy and you never know.”
The Dragons are just two points behind leaders Wigan, who go to defending champions Leeds tonight without six first-choice forwards through injury and suspension.
The game is a crucial one for the Rhinos as they enter an eight-day period which could make or break their season.
Brian McDermott’s men are hovering in mid-table after an inauspicious start to their title defence and could find themselves out of the top eight if results go against them this weekend.
“It is very important that we look to build momentum over the next few weeks,” said McDermott.
“We have got Wigan this week and then Warrington the following week which are two very tough challenges.”