RUGBY LEAGUE will not have seen the last of Leeds Rhinos legend Kevin Sinfield when he hangs up his boots this month.
That’s the view of Rhinos chief executive Gary Hetherington with just two days to go until Sinfield’s final competitive game for the club.
Sinfield will bow out after Saturday’s First Utility Super League Grand Final against Wigan Warriors, though he is due to make an appearance in Rhinos’ tour game against New Zealand at Headingley on Friday, October 23.
Rhinos are planning to make that game a celebration to mark the career of Sinfield and fellow retiring stalwarts Jamie Peacock and Kylie Leuluai.
Sinfield is crossing codes to join Yorkshire Carnegie, but Hetherington reckons he will return to rugby league at some stage – and there will be a role for him to play off the field at Leeds.
“He is going to try a new challenge in rugby union, but I have no doubt in years to come he will have a high-profile role to play in rugby league and probably at the Rhinos as well,” Hetherington said.
Hetherington believes Sinfield is “the best goal kicker either code of rugby has ever seen” and second to none as a team captain.
“The influence and impact he has had, on and off the field, has been remarkable,” Hetherington added.
Peacock is not set to feature against New Zealand, so Saturday’s game will be his last as a player.
“He has done 10 full seasons with us and when we signed him, at 27, we thought he would play out the rest of his career at Leeds, but we could not have imagined it would be 10 years,” Hetherington reflected.
“In many ways he has got better the longer he has gone on.
“In the last two seasons he has been very much at the top of his game. He has been picked in this year’s Dream Team and he’s unlucky not to be Man of Steel. His performances have been consistently outstanding and his influence in our team has grown.
“While he has never captained Leeds Rhinos, he has taken a leadership role and been a big influence on the team and the club. He is a role model for young players and he has every attribute you’d want in a professional sportsman.”
Danny McGuire, Sinfield’s half-back partner and favourite to take over as captain next year, reckons Peacock, Sinfield and Lauitiiti are three of Leeds’ all-time greats.
“I’ve played all my Leeds career with Kev. I came through the academy watching him in the first team and then I’ve played alongside him and he has been captain the whole time,” McGuire said.
“He has been unbelievable, a great pro’ and everything he does is on point. If any young player wants a role model, they should look at what Kev does and how he conducts himself. He is a total professional and very talented, there’s not many things in the game he can’t do, but more important is what he’s like off the field. He is a top lad.”
Of Peacock, McGuire added: “To get him from Bradford, when he was Great Britain captain, was a massive coup and we probably wouldn’t have been as successful without him at the club.
“He is mentally the toughest player I have ever come across and he always wants to win. That’s a big part of what has made us successful and it would be great if JP and Kev could both bow out with another Grand Final winner’s ring.
“Kylie has been a fantastic servant to the club as well and a great signing. He has been brilliant for us and he is the most successful overseas player the club has ever had.”
Player of the year Kallum Watkins admitted sending Sinfield, Peacock and Leuluai out on a high is part of the team’s motivation for Saturday.
He said: “They’d be the first to tell us to focus on the team, but they have been fantastic ambassadors for rugby league and the club and they are the sort of role models you want as rugby league players.
“Full credit to them, they will certainly be giving it 100 per cent in their last game and hopefully we can do a great job for them.”