Peter Smith: Andy Lynch ranks as a Castleford ‘immortal’

Andy Lynch.
Andy Lynch.
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IN 1999 Glenn Hoddle was sacked as England football manager, Ernie Wise died and William Hague was Tory leader.

The average house price in this country was £74,000, a pint of beer cost £1.90 – and Andy Lynch made his debut, aged 19, for Castleford Tigers.

Jamie Peacock.

Jamie Peacock.

They were coached by Stuart Raper and on course for a fifth-place finish in Super League, plus appearances in the Challenge Cup and Super League semi-finals.

Eighteen years and exactly 500 games later, Lynch has confirmed this will be his final season as a player. By any standards 500 matches is a remarkable achievement and more so for a front-rower who plays in the thick of the battle.

Lynch has had an outstanding career. A World Club champion with Bradford Bulls 11 years ago and capped once by Great Britain, Lynch, who also played for Hull, was among a new generation who came into the game after the start of summer rugby and full-time professionalism.

In terms of honours, he hasn’t enjoyed the success a player of his talent and durability might have done, but could still end his career as a record breaker. Castleford’s win over Warrington Wolves last weekend was Lynch’s 447th Super League appearance and he is in sight of Kevin Sinfield’s best of 454. With Tigers six points clear at the top of the table there is also every chance he could bow out at Old Trafford as a Grand Final winner and a treble of domestic trophies is also a possibility.

Kevin Sinfield.

Kevin Sinfield.

Should that happen, Lynch will secure his status as a Castleford immortal – and one of Super League’s greats, if he isn’t already.

The competition came of age this year, having begun in 1996. So who are the five most influential players in its history?

Here’s a suggested list.

5: Paul Anderson. The Castleford-born prop played for Halifax and Leeds before joining Bradford Bulls in 1997.

He was a two-time Grand Final and World Club Challenge winner with Bradford before winning multiple honours at St Helens, including the treble in 2006. Then, as coach, he guided Huddersfield Giants to the league leaders’ shield in 2013.

4: Leon Pryce followed a similar path to Anderson as a key player for both Bradford and Saints during their peak at the top of the British game, winning every available honour.

He later had spells with Catalans Dragons and Hull, was part of the Great Britain team at a time when they, occasionally, beat Australia and finished his career this year back at Bradford in the Championship.

3: St Helens commissioned a statue of Keiron Cunningham at their new stadium, which is still there despite his departure from the coaching hot seat this year. Cunningham was probably the biggest influence on Saints during their glory years, having made his debut in the pre-Super League era. He won every possible honour at his hometown and only club, making 496 appearances and scoring the final try at Saints’ old Knowsley Road ground.

2: When Leeds Rhinos signed Jamie Peacock from Bradford at the end of the 2005 season it was probably the best transfer business done by a Super League club.

Peacock had already achieved everything in the domestic game with Bradford, including captaining them to Grand Final victory over his future employers in his last match.

At Leeds he was the driving force in the club’s greatest era, bowing out at Old Trafford two years ago when Rhinos completed the treble.

He won nine Grand Finals, the Challenge Cup four times and four World Club titles. And he was respected by the Aussies, which is an honour in itself. His ill-fated cameo as a player for Hull Kingston Rovers last year was a disappointing footnote.

1: Kevin Sinfield was rugby league’s greatest modern captain and possible the best-ever, skippering Leeds for 14 years, throughout their most successful era.

Super League’s record holder for goals, points and appearances, he was also runner-up in the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year voting after guiding Leeds Rhinos to the treble in his final rugby league season.

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