CLUB LEGEND Kevin Sinfield has been backed to turn ailing Leeds Rhinos’ fortunes around in the wake of their disastrous Coral Challenge Cup exit.
Less than 24 hours after Rhinos were humbled 24-22 at Betfred Championship neighbours Bradford Bulls, chief executive Gary Hetherington issued a statement praising Sinfield’s “leadership qualities”.
The seven-time Grand Final winning captain, who is Leeds’ record goals and points scorer, returned to the club last July as director of rugby.
He appointed former teammate Dave Furner as coach and took the decision to sack him last week, just six months into a three-year contract.
It has been a tough 11 months for Sinfield who does not have a coaching role, but is in charge of Rhinos’ entire rugby operation.
He has overseen a revamp of Rhinos’ backroom operation and has been responsible for recent recruitment, though other members of the squad are on contracts issued before he took over.
Sinfield is now heading the search for a new head-coach.
Richard Agar has been appointed as interim boss, but does not want the role on a long-term basis.
Rhinos are third from bottom in Super League and in serious relegation danger with half the season completed.
In his statement Hetherington admitted Saturday’s Cup exit was “a huge disappointment in what has been a very poor season so far for the team” and he insisted: “I fully appreciate the frustration felt by our fans which is shared by all our directors, management and staff.
In all my time in the game I have never worked with anyone with as much focus and determination to succeed as Kevin.Gary Hetherington
“We never envisaged being where we are at the outset and it is fair to say we have under-performed in so many ways, not least team performances and results. We have been here before and must firstly recognise our mistakes and then implement a plan to rectify and improve as soon as possible.
“The responsibility starts with the board of directors and as chief executive I can assure everyone we are fully focussed on doing whatever is necessary to bring about a change in our fortunes and this includes supporting and backing our senior management.”
Hetherington stressed: “In this regard, Kevin Sinfield as head of our rugby operation has already shown his leadership qualities by making some tough decisions.
“The easy and soft decisions for managers when confronted with problems is to leave them and let things drift and it takes one with a strength of character and interest in what is best for the organisation to grasp the nettle and make a tough call, which often can be an unpopular one too.
“We are fortunate to have Kevin at this difficult time for our club.
“He has assembled a top-class backroom staff and made changes and improvements which will bear fruit in the future.
“He cares passionately about our organisation, he understands our values, in fact he has been instrumental in establishing these over the past 20-years and he has a clear-sighted vision for our future and what we need to do to achieve our goals.
“In all my time in the game I have never worked with anyone with as much focus and determination to succeed as Kevin and I know the pain he is enduring at present.
“What he and all our management need most of all is support. This will certainly be provided by me and our board and I hope all our fans can do the same.”
Completion of Emerald Headingley’s £45m redevelopment will be celebrated this week when Rhinos take on visitors Castleford Tigers.
Hetherington’s statement continued: “On Thursday when we open our new North Stand we will share a pride in having created something special for our club and the game of rugby league and please be assured we are just as focussed on re-building our team to match our facilities.
“Thank you very much for your support at this difficult time for us all.”