Kevin Sinfield: Leeds Rhinos legend ready to bow out after Warrington Wolves match for new rugby union career at Leicester Tigers
Twenty seven years to the day after signing for Leeds, Kevin Sinfield’s official involvement with the club will come to an end on Sunday.
The former player will bow out from his role as director of rugby after Rhinos’ Betfred Super League clash with Warrington Wolves at Emerald Headingley.
The 40-year-old, known to fans as Sir Kev, is moving on to begin a new job on the coaching staff at rugby union giants Leicester Tigers.
Sinfield will leave a permanent legacy as Rhinos’ - and arguably rugby league’s - greatest and most successful captain.
He made 569 appearances for Leeds between 1997 and 2015, a tally only two players - John Holmes and Fred Webster - have bettered.
He holds club and Super League records for most goals and points and is the third-highest points scorer in rugby league’s 126-year history.
More significantly, he would say, he led Leeds to seven Grand Final wins, three league leaders’ shields, a hat-trick of World Club titles and the Challenge Cup twice, during an incredible - and appropriate given his squad number - 13 years as captain.
Sinfield’s departure comes three years after he returned to the club in a management capacity and during that time he has overseen a rebuild of the playing squad and the emergence of a new generation of young talent.
Sinfield was originally due to join Leicester at the end of the Leeds’ Super League season, but - explaining why he has brought that forward - reckons his task has effectively been completed.
“We don’t have a huge job on, in terms of recruitment,” he said.
“We knew where we wanted to go and what positions we wanted to strengthen and we’ve been working on it for some time.
“I think James Bentley is going to be awesome for us, he is a Leeds lad who loves the club and he will bring us something different in the back-row.
“Aidan Sezer, I think his relationship in the halves with Luke Gale will be a really, really strong partnership.”
Sinfield said a new contract for captain Matty Prior was another crucial part of the jigsaw.
The Australian forward had been considering retiring last winter, but is now committed to Leeds until the end of 2023.
“The bits I needed to do, the priorities at this moment in time, are done,” Sinfield added.
“Of course there are other priorities, but they can wait a bit longer and there isn’t the same time-pressure.”
Sinfield will attend a reunion of Leeds’ 2011 Grand Final-winning team, which is combined with the latest ceremony to induct players into the club’s hall of fame, before this weekend's game.
But he insists the final match of his Rhinos career won’t be a particularly emotional occasion for him, stressing: “It is not a clean cut.”
He intends to remain a supporter of the team and said: “Of course I will be sad.
"I have probably got a range of emotions: sadness and a bit of disappointment we couldn’t find a solution [to keep him at the club].
“Also, excited about a new challenge, apprehensive - and tired, from trying to make sure we have a good handover.
“I’ve tried to map out the next three or four months, so Rich [Agar, Rhinos’ coach] and Gary [Hetherington, chief executive] know exactly what needs doing and when
“But, after Thursday [when Rhinos won at Hull], if we get another win I will be chuffed to bits.
“I know the team are capable and I hope they go on and fulfil the potential that is still there this year.”
But Sinfield has no second thoughts about his decision to move on.
“My role has changed and there’s not enough there at the minute that gives me satisfaction,” he stressed.
“Like most people in a job, I want to feel that; if I am going to spend so much time doing it and work that hard at it, I need to get more back from it.
“I absolutely love the club, love the people who work here and am certainly going to miss a lot of people.
“I really enjoy working with the players. People think that means you are doing coaching, but it doesn’t; I have really enjoyed spending time with them and trying to help them and support them.
“Unfortunately, my time with them over the last 18 months is not where I’d like it to be and ultimately you get caught up in doing other stuff - politics and bureaucracy, rather than spending time where you think you are better suited.”
Support the YEP and become a subscriber today. Enjoy unlimited access to local news and the latest on Leeds United, With a digital subscription, you see fewer ads, enjoy faster load times, and get access to exclusive newsletters and content. Click here to subscribe.