Leeds’ greatest ever captain stunned the sporting world with news of his retirement from rugby league and then produced another surprise by announcing he is switching codes. Peter Smith reports.
KEVIN SINFIELD would have played on for Leeds Rhinos next season, if he hadn’t been offered the opportunity to switch codes with Yorkshire Carnegie.
Sinfield, 34, has confirmed this year will be his last as a Rhinos – and rugby league –- player.
The greatest captain in Leeds’ history will join Rhinos’ union sister club on an 18-month contract in November.
Sinfield said he did not want to play against Rhinos or leave Headingley, so the opportunity to spearhead Carnegie’s bid for a Premiership return was too good to turn down.
He also insisted he remains fully committed to Rhinos’ cause in 2015 and will do “everything I can” to help them win more silverware in his final year with the club he has graced since 1997.
“If the opportunity of playing rugby union wasn’t here, I’d have played for another year,” said Sinfield, who was contracted to Rhinos for 2016.
“I wasn’t retiring. I love the place.
“People talk about hometown boys and what it means to them, but I’ve been here since I was 13.
“The bond I have here, the relationship with people who work here and with fans, you don’t just throw something like that away.
“I’d have gone again next year in particular as it would have been my 20th season, but I didn’t want to get to stage where I looked back and had regrets.
“The challenge this offers me now will make sure the last couple of years [of his playing career] will be really enjoyable.
“I understand how difficult it’s going to be. I don’t think it’s going to be a breeze. I know it’s going to be really tough, but I want it to be that way as well.
“It’s the reason I’m coming – I want a challenge and feel like if we can get this club back in the Premiership we’ve accomplished that.”
Sinfield said he has always watched union, but never played the 15-a-side code.
“It’s something that really excites me here,” he said. “The fact I don’t have to relocate and I know a lot of the players, plus the fact I know [Carnegie coach] Bryan Redpath and [director of rugby] Chris Gibson worked very well. It just meant it fit.”
Sinfield – who hopes to play fly-half for Carnegie – added: “It’s really exciting, I’m really pleased. I feel a lot better now it’s announced, if I’m honest.
“I am excited about this next seven months, in particular, with the Rhinos.
“My commitment and focus and work ethic will not change, but unfortunately people’s attitude to me may and I understand that.
“I realise that, but it won’t change how I conduct myself and operate. I do my very best every week.
“I’m still trying to get back fit. I hope to be involved over Easter at some stage and fight for my spot like everyone else.”
Sinfield revealed he made his decision around six weeks ago, but his Rhinos colleagues were only told yesterday morning, shortly before a press conference at Headingley Carnegie.
“There was some surprise,” Sinfield revealed. “I think one or two had put two and two together, at the last minute.
“Jamie Jones-Buchanan knew. He’s my best mate so I had to tell him. But it was good.
“When you’re with a group and you’ve played with them that long, they are not colleagues they are friends and you want the best for your friends.
“That was the sort of reaction I got. People shook my hand wished me all the best and also they understand I still have a job to do this year.
“I will be playing alongside them for another seven months and I felt it was important they knew and it was out there.
“I wanted them to understand my commitment and focus going forward.
“It was really important to get that across to them.”
Rhinos now face losing two of the greatest players in their history at the end of this season, after Jamie Peacock confirmed he will leave the club to join Hull KR as football manager.
But Sinfield is confident he is leaving the team in good hands and the future remains bright.
“I think what [chief executive] Gary Hetherington has set in place, what [coach] Brian McDermott is doing, the recruitment that has taken place and the junior set up –I think they are ready to deal with it,” he said.
“Look at the form of some of our younger players, it has been outstanding. I have no doubt some further recruitment will take place and I definitely think the squad is in a great position to continue winning silverware.”
Sinfield admitted his feelings ahead of yesterday’s announcement were “quite mixed”.
He joked: “Driving into the car park I wasn’t quite sure if I was coming to a wedding or a funeral!
“But this isn’t the end, it is just letting people know what the future holds for me.
“I have been here since I was 13 and the club means so much to me, but at some stage it has to end.
“It doesn’t end quite yet, there’s still seven months of the season to go and I will ensure I do my best every day for the Rhinos.
“I want to help ensure 2015 ends the right way for Rhinos.
“I hope it [his announcement] doesn’t change too much. I hope there isn’t a mentality that they have to send me and JP out the right way.
“A lot of that is down to myself and Jamie. As things stand at the minute I am not part of the team, so I have to get myself fit and fight my way back in.
“The team are going great and they’ve had two good wins in the games I’ve missed.
“There’s a right way and a wrong way for this season to go and I’d like it to be the right way, so it doesn’t affect my memories of this place, which has been such a big part of my life.”
Sinfield completed the set of every available domestic honour when Rhinos beat Castleford Tigers in the Challenge Cup final last August. He conceded that had a bearing on his decision.
“Possibly,” he said. “It was a culmination of a few things: winning the Challenge Cup, Yorkshire Carnegie getting a new board and bringing Brian Redpath in – and also a realisation of where I am in my own career.”