Kevin Sinfield: A leader of men, a captain of captains & a Headingley hero

Rob Burrow and Kevin Sinfield Leeds Rhinos PA

In our latest in-depth feature, we pay tribute to Kevin Sinfield – one of England’s greatest sons and one helluva inspirational person off the pitch.

Over the years we have seen some incredible points scorers grace Super League with the likes of Andy Farrell, Lee Briers, Paul Deacon and Danny Brough all developing a reputation as players of that nature.

However, there is one name that stands out more than any other and that is Kevin Sinfield.

Between 1997 and 2015, the former Leeds and England international put together one of the great rugby league careers. With that, we pay tribute with another addition to the in-depth series.

Born in Oldham, Sinfield’s journey to rugby league superiority started out with Waterhead ARLFC, a known proving ground for many top players over the years, including the likes of Paul Sculthorpe.

By 1997, he joined Leeds. At the age of 16 made his debut against Sheffield the same year. After featuring sporadically during the same season and again in 1998, the young loose forward eventually had a breakthrough year in 1999. He went on to make 21 appearances as the Rhinos went on to finish third and win the Challenge Cup for the first time since 1978.

First World Cup appearance

Kevin Sinfield Leeds Rhinos 2001 PA
Sinfield in action for Leeds in 2001

In 2000, he made his debut for England and was even a part of the World Cup squad. He went on to score a hat trick in a 76-4 victory over Russia. By the 2001 season he was starting to take over kicking duties on a regular basis. By 2003 he had kicked over 100 goals for the first time in a season. In the same year he also helped lead the Rhinos to their third Challenge Cup final in five years.

The 2004 season would be his best season to date. He recorded 31 appearances, four tries and 152 goals to help steer Leeds to their first ever Super League title and their first top division title since 1972.

Despite losing to rivals Bradford in the 2005 Grand Final and then Warrington in the 2006 play-offs, the Rhinos were slowly but surely becoming a powerhouse of British rugby league. Sinfield was at the forefront of an exceptional group of players that included the likes of Danny McGuire, Rob Burrow, Keith Senior, Jamie Jones-Buchanan and Jamie Peacock.

Two Harry Sunderland Trophies for Kevin Sinfield

Kevin Sinfield Leeds Rhinos 2009 PA
Sinfield donning the 13 shirt for the Rhinos in 2009

Between 2007-09, the tide had turned. After many years of Bradford and St Helens’ dominance, Leeds started to show an incredible winning mentality. They became the first side in the Super League era and the first team since the fearsome Wigan side of the early 1990s to win three league titles in a row. During that time, Sinfield continued to show why he was one of the best game managers out there. In 2009, he became the first Leeds player since Lewis Jones to kick 1,000 goals for the Rhinos. The 2009 Grand Final also saw him win his first of two Harry Sunderland Trophies in his illustrious career as he scored six points in the 18-10 victory over St Helens.

After missing out in 2010, Leeds came roaring back in 2011 and 2012 as they yet again claimed back-to-back Super League titles with Sinfield claiming his second Harry Sunderland Trophy for his man of the match display in the 2012 Grand Final win over Warrington. During the game he scored a try and kicked five goals. On top of it all he finished the play-offs with a 100% goal-kicking record.

Crowned the world’s best player

Kevin Sinfield Leeds Rhinos 2012 PA
Sinfield was crowned the world’s best player in 2012

The 2012 season also saw Sinfield continue to cement his status among the rugby league elite as he was crowned the best player in the world after securing the Golden Boot award. He beat the likes of Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk to the award. The same year saw him also achieve another incredible milestone as he incredibly became Leeds’ all-time points scorer.

There would be more unbridled success for the influential captain as he brilliantly helped Leeds overcome their Challenge Cup drought by helping them earn their first title since 1999 in 2014. In 2015, everything would come full circle for Sinfield and Leeds. They brilliantly capped off one of the most dominant runs in British rugby league history by becoming the third team of the Super League era to win the treble.

Retiring as a club legend

Danny McGuire and Kevin Sinfield Leeds Rhinos 2015 PA
Danny McGuire (left) and Kevin Sinfield (right) celebrate Leeds’ 2015 Grand Final triumph

By the time of his retirement in 2016, the Leeds legend had broken all kinds of records whilst becoming one of the most accomplished players the sport has to offer.

Despite never winning Man of Steel, Sinfield still has a vast collection of team and personal accolades. He won seven Super league titles, two Challenge Cups, three World Club Challenges, two Harry Sunderland Trophies, a Lance Todd Trophy and a Golden Boot.

Super League’s all-time points scorer

Kevin Sinfield Leeds Rhinos conversion PA
Sinfield taking a shot at goal in 2015

The England and Great Britain international not only finished his career with an extensive trophy case but also with some incredible records. To this day, he stands as Super League’s all-time points scorer with 3,443. Altogether throughout his career, he surpassed over 4,000 points. He sits only behind the great Neil Fox and Jim Sullivan for the most points in the history of British rugby league.

Although never a prolific try scorer, he was still able to score 86 tries in over 500 appearances for Leeds. All in all, it was plainly obvious that he brought plenty of other exceptional attributes that would make him one of the league’s most dominant performers during his 19 years in the league. An ultimate game manager, a tenacious defender alongside one of the most effective kicking games in the competition. Between 2000 and 2013, he was also a mainstay for both England and Great Britain featuring 40 times in total.

Since retiring, Sinfield has turned his attention to coaching and roles behind the scenes. In 2016, he was announced as rugby director for the Rugby Football League. He was in charge of formulating a performance strategy for the World Cup. By 2018, he re-joined Leeds as director of rugby before leaving at the end of the 2021 season. He joined rugby union side Leicester Tigers as their defence coach.

Extraordinary charity efforts for Rob Burrow

Rob Burrow PA
Kevin Sinfield, with Rob Burrow, at Headingley Stadum after completing the Extra Mile Challenge from Leicester to Leeds

However, it was not just on the field where the former Great Britain international produced special moments. His recent charitable efforts off the field have been nothing short of extraordinary. They’ve brought the rugby league world together in way not seen before. In 2020, he unbelievably completed seven marathons in seven days, raising more than £2million in support of his friend Rob Burrow. However, in 2021 he pushed his physical limits yet again after completing a 101-mile challenge from Leicester Tigers’ Welford Road to Headingley.

You could easily run out of adjectives to describe him as a player and as a man. None would do him enough justice.

Over the course of a 19-year career, he can be considered one of the very best. His leadership, winning mentality and all-round consistency set him apart from the rest.

A warrior who has shown true brotherhood, solidarity and friendship towards his friend and to many others.

If you ever need a dose of inspiration, then he is certainly the man to look at. In recent times he has defined going the extra mile. He is a leader of men, a captain of captains, a hero of Headingley and for many he is and always will be, Sir Kev.

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About Zach Holland 295 Articles
Love Rugby League writer.

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