Kevin Sinfield leaves Leeds Rhinos having more than fulfilled his massive potential
BIG THINGS were expected of Kevin Sinfield from the moment he signed for Leeds as a 13-year-old on August 1, 1994.
Rated as the best schoolboy player in the country, Sinfield first attracted the Loiners’ attention playing for Lancashire against Yorkshire at Wakefield’s Belle Vue.
Leeds scout Bob Pickles was at the game and the following day Sinfield and his parents received a phone call inviting them to Headingley for talks with then-coach Doug Laughton.
Sinfield had spent time with both Warrington Wolves and Wigan Warriors before that, but opted to join Leeds and that was the start of more than a quarter of a century’s involvement with the Headingley club.
Sinfield’s move to join the coaching staff at rugby union giants Leicester Tigers ends that, but the memories will never fade and his record speaks for itself.
During a glittering playing career, from his debut at home to Sheffield Eagles in 1997 to glorious farewell at Old Trafford 18 years later, Sinfield rewrote the record books.
In 521 games for Leeds – all but 31 of those as a member of the starting 13 – Sinfield scored 86 tries, 1,792 goals and 39 drop goals, for a points tally of 3,967.
Nobody has scored more goals or points for Leeds and only John Holmes and Fred Webster made more appearances.
Sinfield’s career tally of 4,231 points – from 569 matches – is the third highest in rugby league history.
At the time Sinfield joined Leeds, before the Super League era began, they were the game’s sleeping giants.
It took him eight seasons to lift his first major trophy, but after the 2004 campaign – when Leeds topped Super League and won the Grand Final – the silverware kept on coming.
The defeat of Bradford Bulls 17 years ago was the first of Leeds’ seven Old Trafford wins under Sinfield’s captaincy, they were World Club champions three times, topped the league table on a similar number of occasions and won the Challenge Cup twice.
The Oldham-born leader enjoyed the perfect farewell when, in 2015, Leeds recorded their second successive Wembley triumph, finished top of the table and then beat Wigan Warriors in the Grand Final to complete an historic treble.
Fittingly, Sinfield’s final points for Leeds came when he converted Josh Walters’ second-half try which proved the difference between the sides.
His finest performance also came in a Grand Final, three years earlier.
Leeds, having finished second in the table, were given no chance against Warrington Wolves, who had beaten them at Wembley two months before.
But inspired by a man-of-the-match performance from Sinfield, the second time he won the Harry Sunderland Trophy, Leeds retained their title with a stunning against-the-odds success.
The ultimate professional and an inspirational leader, Sinfield was one of the finest pressure kickers the game has ever seen.
Time and again, his cool head and accurate boot got Leeds out of tight situations, most famously in 2003 when he landed a touchline goal with the final kick of normal time to level the scores in a Challenge Cup semi-final against St Helens.
In 2011 Rhinos won both semi-finals by two points and on each occasion Sinfield’s penalty goal proved the difference.
In 2015 Leeds seemed out on their feet in a sudden-death Super League semi-final against Saints at Headingley.
Late in the game, they were trailing by five points when, out of the blue, Sinfield landed a 40-20 kick which turned the tide.
Leeds scored moments later and went on to secure their place in the decider.
It wasn’t all plain sailing for Sinfield in his Leeds playing career.
Ever-present in the early part of 2000, he was – bizarrely – dropped by coach Dean Lance for that year’s Challenge Cup final.
The knockout competition provided more than its fair share of dismay as Leeds lost six successive finals, five of them when Sinfield was captain, before finally getting the monkey off their back in 2014.
He also endured a tough spell in his final season, being dropped to the bench for a while as Liam Sutcliffe was preferred at stand-off.
The youngster, though, suffered a season-ending knee injury and Sinfield returned to steer Rhinos to the treble.
His off-field role as director of rugby has been challenging. He came into a difficult situation, following the break-up of Rhinos golden generation and mistakes were made, but Leeds won a trophy last year, are heading in the right direction and building blocks are in place for a successful future.
In his current job, Sinfield has had to cope with the effects of the pandemic and former team-mate Rob Burrow’s devastating motor neurone disease diagnosis.
Earlier this month Sinfield was awarded an OBE, to go with the MBE from 2014, for his charity fundraising, particularly running seven marathons in seven days which raised more than £2.5m for the MND Association.
That will probably be the greatest legacy of Sinfield’s time at Rhinos, but the connection has not been completely severed. His son Jack is a member of Rhinos’ under-17s side and was a try scorer in last week’s 40-10 win over Wigan.
Jack ensures the Sinfield name lives on, not that fans of Leeds Rhinos will ever forget the contribution of Kevin Sinfield