RECORD-BREAKER Kevin Sinfield sees the Carnegie Challenge Cup semi-final as a step towards proving Leeds Rhinos’ critics wrong.
Rhinos’ plunge from Engage Super League leaders and Grand Final winners in 2009 to sixth spot on the table today has attracted condemnation from fans and media throughout the game.
Sinfield accepts Rhinos have dropped below their recent high standards so far this year, but he insists their best is yet to come and reckons they are still in the hunt for both major trophies.
Castleford Tigers stand between Rhinos and a second successive Wembley appearance. Sinfield is gearing up for a tough battle, but is confident Leeds are beginning to come good at the right time.
“It has been a tough year,” said the three-time cup finalist. “Our inconsistency has hurt us and we have been easy pickings for parts of the media to come at us.
“At times fans throughout rugby league seem to make an issue when the majority of your squad get over the age of 30.
“Everybody thinks you’re past it and I think we have been an easy target in that respect. Because of what we’ve done over the last five or six years, the fact we haven’t met those heights yet this year has been frowned upon and that has been held against us as well.
“We are not entirely comfortable with where we are in the league, but both competitions are still all to play for and I feel our best rugby is still ahead of us this year.”
Sinfield reckons the loss of key men Danny McGuire and Jamie Peacock in the early start of the season had an under-estimated impact on Rhinos.
He added: “Over the last three weeks we have played a lot better. We have continued to train really hard all year and hopefully we can continue getting better week after week.”
Tigers coach Terry Matterson will not reveal his team until an hour before kick-off. Sinfield, likely to play at No 6, is not getting caught up in speculation over whether stand-off Rangi Chase will feature.
“We have got to prepare for Cas’ best performance of the year, whether that’s with Rangi Chase or without him,” the Leeds captain stressed.
“Sometimes if your so-called best player misses out it take the pressure off and you go out and get a win against all expectations.”
The last two games have seen Sinfield set two new marks, overtaking Lewis Jones as Leeds’ most prolific goal scorer and edging past Paul Deacon’s record of Super League points.
Boss Brian McDermott has suggested Sinfield deserves a statue in his honour and the player himself said: “That’s nice – but it’s a bit embarrassing. I am really humbled by it.
“The records I have I am really proud of and I am delighted to have done them, but it is very much a team thing for me.
“If they were going to erect a statute, it should be of the team that has played a large part of this last 10-12 years.
“There’s been some great, great players who have played for this club – like Lewis Jones and John Holmes – and they are more deserving of a statue than I am.
“I’d just like some more winner’s medals and Super League rings at home on my mantelpiece. I’ve hopefully got a lot more years with Leeds and the focus for me is trying to make this team a better one.”