Leeds Rhinos: Sinfield dampening down expectations

Kevin Sinfield
Kevin Sinfield
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Captain’s Call: Kevin Sinfield says he is happy with how Rhinos have started the season but says no-one is getting carried away yet. Peter Smith reports.

SUPER LEAGUE leaders Leeds Rhinos are “going all right”, but skipper Kevin Sinfield says it is far too early to start getting excited.

Rhinos will take a seven match winning run in all competitions into tonight’s Magic Weekend blockbuster against Wigan Warriors at Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium.

But Sinfield reckons the accolades Rhinos are receiving for their recent form – which includes a 28-12 home win over Wigan 15 days ago – are premature.

“I would like us to be judged around October time,” the Leeds captain said.

“I think we are going all right, I think the squad is very strong and has a lot of depth and we’re very happy to be sat in number one spot at the minute and in the quarter-finals of the Challenge Cup with a home tie.

“I think we are in decent shape, but I know how quickly that can change as well. I remember back to 2005 when it was a great year fo us, but we fell short in terms of trophies.

“We have got a great squad with great depth and I think so far we’ve been able to ride the long-term injuries to Jamie [Jones-Buchanan], Paul Aiton and Rob [Burrow] as well and so as long as that can continue I think we are in decent nick.”

Despite his caution Sinfield feels hard work put in over the past few seasons is beginning to pay off.

He added: “I will say, the style we are playing with – certainly our defence – is something that’s taken a couple of years to evolve.

“Mac [boss Brian McDermott] has been brilliant and the coaching team have been outstanding. They know how to manage us and to get the best out of our mix of players from 17 to 36 every week is a huge challenge.

“Mac has been able to rest a few and rotate, which he hasn’t had chance to do for the last few years. He has probably brought competition for places up another notch and hopefully we can keep it going.

“This is quite a tough priod for us.

“We’ve had Saints in the Cup, which was a pressure game, plus Wigan and Cas – two of the top teams and we’ve got some tough games in May still to come, but if we are still in a decent position come the end of May we will certainly be delighted.”

Rhinos’ form has so far been unaffected by the loss of three experienced players, including their two regular hookers Aiton and Burrow.

Chris Clarkson – normally a second-row or loose-forward – was a shock choice to occup the dummy-half role, with Sinfield also filling in there at times during matches.

But the skipper said: “Clarky has been brilliant, he has shown his versatility. He was a No 6 originally so he has certainly got decent hands.

“He has got a good engine and I am really pleased for him. I’m not surprised at how well he has done, because I know his skillset.

“I agree he wasn’t the obvious choice, but I would like to think we’ve unearthed a bit of a gem there.

“I have rotated in there as well and I don’t think either of us are natural hookers, we are makeshift hookers, but if we can keep grinding results out and keep things ticking over until Rob or Paul get back, it could be really good for us.

“We have also got young Robbie Ward in the under-19s, who is knocking on the door and isn’t too far away. Fingers crossed we can keep it going.”

Sinfield has played at hooker in the past and was widely expected to fill in when Burrow joined Aiton on the long-term casualty list. But he said by continuing in his regular stand-off role Rhinos are maintaining a successful half-back partnership and avoiding disrupting another of the key combinations in the team.

“Myself and Danny {McGuire] have always played well together,” he observed.

“The combination and understanding we’ve got is growing each week.

“He is a fantastic player in great form and I love sharing the half-back role with him.

“On top of that we’ve got Sutty [Liam Sutcliffe] banging on the door and putting in some fantastic performances.

“I think it has worked well him coming off the bench so far – he may not agree, he may want a starting spot, but he causes teams problems, he is a great kid and we have got Stevie Ward who can fill in there as well.

“It certainly maintains continuity and ultimately I think the squad is prepared to have to do some jobs they would not necessarily want to do.

“If that means we are successful, then you roll your sleeves up and give it a shot.”

Despite the win over Wigan earlier this month, Sinfield is wary of the threat the injury-hit champions will pose in tonight’s rematch.

“They have a knack of bringing in great talent,” he said.

“I am expecting a tough game and a huge challenge.

“They beat us at the Magic Weekend last year so – though it’s certainly it’s not a revenge mission – it would be great if we could get the two points,” he added.

Leeds Rhinos’ Ash Handley was among the try scorers for England academy in a narrow 34-30 win over rivals France at Castleford Tigers’ MAH Jungle last night.

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