SHOCKWAVES CREATED by Kevin Sinfield’s massive support in the BBC Sports Personality of the Year voting will give rugby league a national boost.
That’s the claim of Rhinos chief executive Gary Hetherington after Sinfield polled 28 per cent of the vote for one of British sport’s most prestigious honours.
Sinfield, the first rugby league player to be nominated for the individual sports personality prize, received 278,353 votes and was runner-up to Davis Cup-winning tennis ace Andy Murray, on 361,446.
The former Rhinos captain, who switched codes to join Yorkshire Carnegie two months ago, had backing from across rugby league as fans put club allegiances to one side.
It was only the fifth time the code has been honoured at the BBC’s annual review and Hetherington said: “Even if Kevin hadn’t been in the top-three, the week leading up to the event was terrific for his profile and that of the Rhinos and rugby league.
“We have waited 61 years to have someone represent rugby league in Sports Personality.
“We could not have had a better ambassador than Kevin and it provided an opportunity for the whole sport to work together.
“To get 280,000 votes is way above what anyone expected when the nominations were announced and is a remarkable effort.
“It was a great end to the year for both Leeds Rhinos and the game and a great platform for next year.”
Hetherington, who was at the awards ceremony in Belfast along with Sinfield and Rhinos’ treble-winning side, said BBC executives were shocked by the level of support for somebody who was expected to be an also-ran when nominations were announced three weeks ago.
“The BBC people were saying how influential this will be for the game,” Hetherington said. “They were staggered, they had absolutely no idea Kevin would get the level of support he did.
“It has sent reverberations through the BBC. For Kevin Sinfield to be the second most popular sports personality in the country is quite significant.”
Rhinos’ players mingled with other sports stars at the after-event party and Hetherington admitted he was “surprised” by the amount of interest from guests at the gala celebration.
“In rugby league we all feel nobody thinks about us and nobody cares about us, but you go to an event like that and the opposite is the case,” he stated.
“There was real respect and warmth for our sport, our club and team. We were genuinely surprised how much they knew about us.
“It was great for Kevin, Leeds Rhinos and rugby league as a whole. The two days we spent in Belfast were very special and it was good for all the players to have such a wonderful experience.”
Rhinos were also longlisted for the team of the year, while boss Brian McDermott was a contender for the coaching award, but they missed out to Great Britain’s Davis Cup tennis squad and Northern Ireland football’s Michael O’Neill.