Ask anyone their views on Kevin Sinfield and you’ll get one of two replies.
It’ll either be ‘legend’, ‘class act’ or variations on that theme, or it’ll be a blank look followed by two simple words – ‘Kevin who?’.
That one of Rugby League’s all-time greats can be so little known and uncelebrated outside the relatively limited League fan base says as much about Sinfield himself than the sport he loves and excels at.
A classic one-club man, Sinfield often cites two other sportsmen as his heroes.
“Paul Scholes, who’s been a one-club man and who is brilliant at what he’s done. He’s consistent, revered throughout the world, a family man and a real nice lad.
“And Tom Brady in the NFL, a great leader who stuck with the Patriots and won three (make that four now) Superbowls.”
Sinfield is clearly cut from the same understated cloth, a pro’s pro who lets his actions on the pitch do most of the talking for him.
Talk is cheap, but ‘King Kevin’s’ career has been 24-carat.
The highest scoring kicker in Super League history, a massive 40+ international caps (including a stint as captain) and one of only four England players to be recognised as the world’s best player by winning The Golden Boot.
When you list the other three – Hanley, Schofield, Farrell – you realise just how big a deal he really is. And then you wonder why he is still ‘Kevin who?’ to so many.
Loyalty lies at the heart of it. He’s served Leeds Rhinos through three decades and turned down any number of offers to play League in Australia or switch codes for a lucrative Union career.
He’s also very much more than the sum of his parts, which Martyn Sadler, chairman of League Publications Ltd, alluded to when the Golden Boot award was announced.
“Kevin can’t move as quickly as Ben Barba or with the elusiveness of Sam Tomkins, while Cameron Smith’s ability close to the ruck is surely second to none.
“But Sinfield is a supreme captain, and only Cameron Smith can rival his leadership, while Sinfield’s goal-kicking success rate in 2012 was 82.84%, compared to 69.64% for Smith.
“In the Super League Grand Final Sinfield kicked five out of five, from all over the pitch, and that after he had been knocked out earlier by a challenge to the head. What he did in that game goes beyond what could reasonably be expected, even of a Golden Boot winner.”
That last point gets to the heart of what Sinfield is all about. In a sport that requires an almost insane level of toughness and durability as standard, Sinfield still manages to go the extra mile.
Don’t believe me? Have you ever undergone root canal surgery at the dentists…without anaesthetic? Sinfield has.
“They mess about, don’t they, dentists?” he said.
“You’re in there for ages and you only need two minutes’ drilling. Just get it done.”
Sinfield’s been getting it done for Leeds since his debut as a 16-year-old in 1997. Fourteen years and more than 3,600 points later, he’s still there.
His earliest League memory wasn’t the greatest, but even that gives an insight into the man and his ability to conquer adversity and come out stronger, more rounded, better.
“I’ve played rugby since I was seven. I was playing football up to then and my brother came home and said the under nines were short at Waterhead … do you fancy a run?
“I was only seven and I turned up and he ran off to train with the under tens and left me in tears!… but that’s how it started.”
Tears were dried, rugby played and a legend developed.
As he approaches the twilight of his playing days, there’s not so much Sinfield can do to improve his already stellar career.
But you get the feeling he’ll continue to make his mark on the game when he finally calls it a day.
“Rugby league has important things to sort out. I don’t want to say it’s a working-class sport because I think it needs to appeal to everybody to progress, but it’s got to still be in touch as well.
“But you’ve got to be able to mix with kings. For the next generation, it’s important the older end push it in the right direction.”
If Sinfield gets involved in that push, the game will be in very safe hands indeed.
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