DELIGHTED Leeds Rhinos legend Kevin Sinfield has spoken of his “pride” after becoming the first rugby league player to be nominated for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year.
The club’s former captain, who led them to an unprecedented treble in 2015 before switching codes with Yorkshire Carnegie in October, is on an illustrious shortlist of 12 for the distinguished award.
It is the only time a rugby league player has been placed in the running since the competition’s inception in 1954.
Ironically, Sinfield, of course, is now operating in rugby union but this acknowledgment is clearly based on not only inspiring the Rhinos’ first clean sweep but the stand-off’s brilliant leadership during 19 years at Headingley.
He captained Leeds to seven Super League titles, three World Club Challenges and two Challenge Cups as well as leading England and winning the Golden Boot as the world’s best player in 2012.
Sinfield joins the likes of Davis Cup tennis hero Andy Murray, Formula 1 champion Lewis Hamilton, new heavyweight boxing champion Tyson Fury and world heptathlon victor Jessica Ennis-Hill in the shortlist ahead of the event in Belfast on Sunday December 20.
He told the YEP: “It’s really nice for myself, fantastic for the Rhinos to get the recognition for a brilliant 2015 and to represent the team is great. But with the bigger picture, it is a big shot in the arm for rugby league, too.
“Over the years, we have probably not got the recognition the sport deserves but we’re starting to see that now and, hopefully, that will carry on. I’m very, very proud to be flying the flag.”
The award comes down to a public vote and fans from all clubs, not just Rhinos, are already getting behind Sinfield in a bid to see the 35-year-old stun those more famous names.
“It’s really humbling, the whole experience,” he said.
“I owe everything I’ve ever achieved to rugby league and my lifestyle, too, is all down to my experiences in the sport.
“I’ll be forever grateful for that. It’s really nice the way the rugby league public gathers around and gets together in certain instances like this. I’m just going to go try enjoy the experience. The Rhinos boys will all be there and it will be nice to share the night with them and spend some time together again.”
Sinfield hinted Leeds could be in the running for ‘Team of the Year’ after winning Super League, the Challenge Cup and League Leaders’ Shield.
The last side to do that, St Helens in 2006, won the BBC award but Sinfield added: “I think the Davis Cup, with Great Britain not winning it for 79 years, puts those tennis lads in prime position for that.
“Yet what we achieved as a team last season and as a club was fantastic. We’ve spoken about it enough now but it deserves recognition. Thankfully, I think we will get a bit of time there on the night and the whole squad is going over anyway so we could get a few seconds of the spotlight. I’m still a bit surprised to be nominated myself – you just don’t expect rugby league players to get this.”