Rhinos great Kevin Sinfield spoke to Sky Sports rugby league expert and former Leeds team-mate Barrie McDermott ahead of his final game as director of rugby before joining the coaching staff of Premiership rugby union giants Leicester Tigers
By Barrie McDermott and Marc Bazeley
Last Updated: 04/08/21 2:49pm
When Indiana basketball icon Larry Bird agreed to take over as head coach of his home state’s NBA team, the Pacers, he did so on the proviso he would be in the job for no more than three years.
It is the same timeframe Kevin Sinfield asked to be judged on when he returned to the Super League club he enjoyed a stellar playing career with, Leeds Rhinos, in July 2018 as their first director of rugby – and, as with Bird’s successful spell at the Pacers, it has turned out to be the length of his stay in the role.
The 40-year-old is leaving the Rhinos to join rugby union giants Leicester Tigers as defence coach after overseeing a rebuilding job at Emerald Headingley, arriving in the wake of the departure of Super League-winning coach Brian McDermott. That was followed by the tumult of David Furner’s six-month reign and then the team’s rebirth under Richard Agar.
Sinfield departs with Leeds having lifted the Challenge Cup last year and with the next generation of players from the club’s renowned academy starting to make their mark, and he told Sky Sports‘ Barrie McDermott he believes the club are firmly back on track after some difficult recent times.
“Right at the start I said: ‘give me three years’ and I’ve done my three years, and I always committed to that,” Sinfield said. “I knew how difficult it was going to be because of contract lengths and we were stale as a group.
“At the time, especially after parting ways with Dave Furner, I did a couple of interviews and I think the narrative which was portrayed wasn’t fair and correct. They thought I’d pushed all the blame on to Brian McDermott and I don’t think that was fair.
“I was pointing the finger at our senior players because they were the ones who let people down because we hadn’t been strong enough. We hadn’t been good enough within in the dressing room from a leadership perspective.
We’d lost our way as a group and a team, and part of what I tried to do was get us back on track and understand what playing for this club represents.
“It was just because we’d lost our way as a group and a team, and part of what I tried to do was get us back on track and understand what playing for this club represents.”
His switch to Leicester is not the first experience Sinfield has had of the 15-man code, having ended his playing days with Yorkshire Carnegie during the 2015/16 Championship season, and will see him pursue his desire to get more coaching time after his director of rugby role saw him become more and more involved on the administrative side.
He arrives at Mattioli Woods Welford Road with the club not in too dissimilar a position to when he returned to Leeds, with the 10-time Premiership winners and two-time European champions having been starved of major honours in recent years.
Finishing as runners-up to Montpellier in this year’s European Challenge Cup final is a sign the Tigers may be starting to roar again under head coach Steve Borthwick and the former England forward is excited by what Sinfield will bring to the club.
Sinfield pursuing coaching passion with Tigers role
Kevin Sinfield on leaving Leeds to become a rugby union defence coach and how he will still be supporting rugby league.
No doubt the ex-Leeds captain will try to instil some of the values of the Leeds team he was part of which saw him win seven Super League Grand Finals, three World Club Challenges and two Challenge Cups during an 18-year career.
“I always thought it’s important you have something to hang your hat on and throughout my years here as a player I always thought we had three key ingredients,” Sinfield said.
“One was humility; we won a lot of trophies, but we never stopped wanting to improve or get better. We always had time for people and we always wanted to help each other, and I thought that was really important.
“We always worked hard and set high standards – that’s a given – and I can remember after we’d won things some of the pre-seasons were brutal, how hard we worked and what we expected from each other.
“And then the big thing: We always put the team first. That meant at times we were uncomfortable, or you had to cop it yourself or were out or dropped. But you wanted to be a good team-mate, put the team first and realise sometimes your own personal agenda, pride, selfishness couldn’t go in front of the team and I reckon we lost that for a couple of years.”
Sinfield’s final game at the Rhinos, the 27-26 loss to Warrington Wolves on Sunday, saw it preceded by him being inducted into the club’s hall of fame and get the opportunity to wave goodbye to the Headingley faithful ahead of kick-off.
To be recognised in such a manner is humbling for him, but even having long since hung up his boots it remains the collective effort rather than individual accolades he reflects on most fondly.
“I never chased any of the individual stuff,” Sinfield said. “It’s wonderful and so humbling, but it’s always been about the team.
I always think it’s amazing what can be achieved when nobody cares who gets the credit.
“The big nights at Old Trafford we had, the World Cup Challenge wins and the wins at Wembley were all special, and to be in that room with some of our 2011 Grand Final-winning team is what it’s about.
“It’s about those friendships and memories, and it’s a couple of months and even years since I’ve seen some of them so it’s nice to reminisce and see their faces.
“I always think it’s amazing what can be achieved when nobody cares who gets the credit and that’s what this club has been built on over the last 20 years. In my time as a player, I’ve been very fortunate to play in some wonderful teams.”
Watch Barrie McDermott’s full interview with Kevin Sinfield on the website or via Sky On Demand.