Support from fans over his move to rugby union has left Leeds Rhinos skipper Kevin Sinfield “pleasantly surprised”.
Sinfield, the most successful captain in Leeds rugby league’s history, will join sister club Yorkshire Carnegie in November on an 18-month contract.
The shock development left Rhinos fans stunned, but Sinfield – who returned from a three-match injury lay-off in the win over Wakefield Wildcats five days ago – has spoken out to thank them for their “unreal” backing.
“Certainly building up to the announcement there was some concern,” said Sinfield, who will play his second comeback game when Rhinos visit Salford Red Devils tomorrow.
“I must say, I’ve been pleasantly surprised.
“The support I’ve had, certainly from a lot of fans, has been great and a lot of fans have said they are going to come and watch me [play for Carnegie]. “It’s been really nice, it’s nice that people support you.
“On Monday there were hundreds of people milling around when I arrived and everybody was really nice, they greeted me in a nice way and still wanted photographs and autographs.
“Then to come out for the warm-up and get the reception I did was unreal.
“I feel very humble and very proud – this is a very special place to play rugby. It will certainly be a sad day when I finish here.”
Of his return to action, Sinfield added: “Being out injured was very frustrating.
“I was just delighted to play on Monday and to get 80 minutes under my belt.
“It was great to play at home, in front of a huge crowd and on the back of what was announced the week before, the reception I got was unbelievable.
“I felt really humbled by it and the support I’ve had has been incredible.
“I guarantee I will do anything I can to ensure my form is good this year and hopefully we can make it a special year for everybody.”
Sinfield kicked eight goals from as many attempts against Wakefield, taking his career points tally to 4,013.
He is now just 38 short of overtaking Gus Risman and becoming rugby league’s third-highest points scorer of all time. Already Leeds and Super League’s record goals and points scorer, Sinfield insisted: “I just want to be in the team every week.
“I just want to try and make a difference and make sure we have a great year.
“If, along the track, that means I score some points and kick some goals, fantastic.
“It would be great to do it, but I have to say team trophies and team accolades are what I am after. There’s still plenty of games to go, but what’s important to me is that I am playing well and enjoying it.”
Sinfield’s return on Monday was made at loose-forward, the first time he has started a game in his former specialist position since 2011. Coach Brian McDermott has not yet revealed whether Sinfield will continue in the No 13 role tomorrow, or revert to stand-off.
“I was just delighted to play on Monday, after being out for a few weeks,” said Sinfield, who has been struggling with a hamstring problem.
“When the team is playing so well, you have to fight and scrap your way back in. I will play anywhere for the club, always have and always will.
“Over the last few years I’ve had spells at No 13 – I may have started at No 6, but through the shuffle that sometimes happens I’ve played spells there. I do what I have to do to play and I really enjoyed it.”
Liam Sutcliffe has emerged as a possible successor to Sinfield as Leeds’ future stand-off and the current captain said: “He is in great form and he deserves the shirt.
“I just have to fight and scrap for a place and hopefully I can give Mac some headaches.”
Rhinos began round 10 with a four point lead at the top of First Utility Super League, but Salford have climbed to third – and Sinfield is expecting a battle at AJ Bell Stadium tomorrow.
“After a shaky start they seem to have got it together,” he said. “Their coach Iestyn Harris has got them playing well and I think we always knew at some stage, with the calibre of player they’ve got in their squad, they would come good and string some results together and cause some problems for teams.
“They are certainly doing that now and we know it’s going to be tough, but we are in a good position at the moment,” he said. “What is important is we don’t look behind us, we don’t look down. We have got to keep trying to get the two points every week and run our own race and if we do that, I think we’ll be in a pretty good position come the end of the year.”
Jordan Lilley inspired Leeds Rhinos Under-19s to come back from 18-0 down to defeat Widnes Vikings 48-40.
Lilley scored a try and booted eight goals with Harry Boyes, Niall Flynn, Ben Brady, Ben Frankland, Billy McDermott and Ryan Jones touching down, along with George Milton, who is in the first team squad for tomorrow’s match.
Salford Red Devils: from Caton-Brown, Dobson, Evalds, Fages, Forster, Gee, D Griffin, Hansen, Hood, Johnson, Jones-Bishop, Lannon, Locke, Morley, Sa’u, Tasi, Taylor, J Walne, Walton.
Leeds Rhinos: from Hardaker, Handley, Watkins, Moon, Golding, Sutcliffe, Burrow, Cuthbertson, Aiton, Singleton, Ablett, Delaney, Sinfield, McGuire, S Ward, Yates, Achurch, Peacock, Milton.
Referee: Phil Bentham.
Kick-off: Tomorrow, 1pm.