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Skipper Sinfield sets the standards

Paul Fletcher | 23:48 UK time, Saturday, 10 October 2009

At Old Trafford.

Leeds skipper Kevin Sinfield was a man in demand on Saturday night.

Signing autographs, giving interviews, collecting trophies - it took him a long time before he finally reached the Leeds Rhinos dressing room after their third successive Grand Final victory over St Helens.

Most of his team-mates had already changed (England captain Jamie Peacock was in the shower area apparently applying false tan), but Sinfield did not appear to be in a rush.

After exchanging some banter with a few of his team-mates, the 29-year-old took a moment to look at the Harry Sunderland Trophy he had won as the Man of the Match and then took his boots off. As he did so he lifted one up and kissed it.

Not only was it an unusually expressive gesture for a player who keeps a tight rein on his emotions, it was also extraordinarily symbolic.

Sinfield poses with the Super League trophy with coach Brian McClennanSinfield poses with the Super League trophy at Old Trafford

It was the Leeds kicking game that was the foundation of their 18-10 victory. The damage had been done with the boot, not out of the hand.

Time and time again at an atmospheric Old Trafford, St Helens had been turned around by Leeds' devastating kicking game - and Sinfield was at its very heart.

Saints trailed by just one point when another Leeds kick was aimed deep into their territory with 10 minutes left.

It was a moment for St Helens to show all the urgency and desire they had left to offer but it was clear for all to see that they were out on their feet.

Fatigue induces errors. Moments later Matt Gidley threw a forward pass from the play-the-ball. Within minutes Lee Smith, aided, it has to be said, by yet another error from Saints winger Francis Meli, had scored the game-winning try for Leeds.

Saints had been kicked into submission - and Sinfield, along with Danny McGuire and Rob Burrow had done the damage.

St Helens second-rower Jon Wilkin was candid enough to admit that it was not the first time his team had failed to counter the kicking game of Leeds - of the Rhinos' ability to complete an otherwise unspectacular set with a long kick that boomed downfield or a grubber that asked serious questions of the Saints' defensive line.

Some people will point to the decision of video referee Phil Bentham to award Smith his decisive second score on what was his final appearance for the Rhinos before his move to union side Wasps.

I thought Smith was offside when McGuire kicked the ball through - but to suggest that is the reason St Helens lost is to miss the point. The damage done by the Leeds kicking game had made it a question of when, not if.

Wilkin paid rich tribute to the professionalism of Sinfield. The Leeds captain can sometimes come across as a touch dull. He doesn't deliver sound-bites that make headlines and wouldn't be top of the list of players you'd like to have a few beers with.

But he is a dedicated player whose ability to manoeuvre a team around the paddock is something that England would do well to utilise in the forthcoming Four Nations.

He has a cool head and an even temperament. You never get the impression he is going to buckle under pressure; fail to deliver a precious conversion when it really matters.

Sinfield is a player who has learnt from his experiences. In the latter stages of the 2003 Challenge Cup final, Leeds trailed 22-20 against local rivals Bradford. The Rhinos were awarded a penalty in a very kickable position but Sinfield opted to run the ball. Bradford toughed it out and the match finished 22-20. Fast forward to this year's Grand Final and Sinfield kicked a drop-goal in the opening minutes of the second half to put the Rhinos 9-8 in front. It was the first time Saints trailed in the match and the drop-goal spoke of a man who understands the when and why of decision-making in rugby league.

The Leeds skipper is also a decent and honourable man.

Sinfield tries to burst through Leon Pryce's tackleSinfield tries to burst through Leon Pryce's tackle

Much was made prior to the Grand Final of the mutual antipathy between the two teams. In the final minutes - with the match both won and lost - it looked as though that animosity would rear its head.

A couple of unsightly scuffles broke out, pushing and shoving, while Leeds full-back Brent Webb made gestures with his hands in the direction of the Saints players in the closing seconds. It was nothing that would land you in trouble with the authorities, just the type of movements that indicate somebody talking, perhaps saying too much.

There is clearly a bit of needle between Leeds and Saints. I don't think it is entirely a bad thing. It gives Super League a narrative and is something the fans can enjoy. Not surprisingly the Leeds players all embraced each other in celebration as the final hooter sounded - with just about one exception.

Sinfield walked straight over to Kieron Cunningham and embraced the St Helens hooker. Cunningham and Sinfield - two warriors on the field, men you can respect. Their momentary acknowledgement of the efforts of the other was one of my highlights of the final.

Fast forward an hour or so and Sinfield was walking down the changing room corridor to conduct another round of interviews. St Helens duo Sean Long and Lee Gilmour were both talking to reporters. They had played their final games for St Helens after years of loyal and successful service to the Lancashire club.

Sinfield made a point of shaking the hand of each of them and wishing them well.

Kevin Sinfield is not just a very good rugby player but also a stand-up, decent person.
He is a role model.

The loose forward spoke after his team's victory of the memories Leeds had created by winning the Grand Final yet again. Nobody deserves them more than him.


  • Comment number 1.

    I quite agree, Sinfield is becoming a legend in the game and a true gentleman. Surely he must be a candidate for Sports Personality of the year.


  • Comment number 2.

    The death od a great game. Second place and lower should not get the opportunity to become champions. So congratulations to Leeds for their deserved win this year, and St Helens for the last 4 years. Top of the pile equals the best, no matter how complicated people want to try to make it. Oh, and the idea is that the video ref leads to "correct" decisions....I need say no more

  • Comment number 3.

    Well done Sinny, Leeds' most successful SL captain I believe - he deserves everything that's he's got.

    Hopefully he's managed to prove his critics wrong. Average? - your havin a laugh!

  • Comment number 4.

    I thought it was just me who thought of Kevin Sinfield as a superb Captain, Team Player and all round " Bloody Good Bloke " Last night's history making victory elevated Kevin to the heights of the most succesful captain in Leed's Rugby Leagu history. And no man deserves the plaudits more. he is everything Paul Fletcher writes about him ; a VERY good Rugby League player, a VERY decent man and a HUGE role model for youngsters. Oh if only football could find someone like him, or to be fair, like every other member of the Rugby League family, players AND supporters alike. I for one would not have been disappointed had Lee Smith's second try been disallowed. I have every sympathy with St. Helens and their supporters, If we had lost by the 6 points that try gave us, I would have been very upset. However, thanks to the 2 drop goals, that try didn't relly affect the outcome of what was another fabulous Grand Final. Credit must go to both teams & supporters, they created a brilliant atmosphere that demonstrated once again that win or lose, Rugby League is the greatest game in the world

  • Comment number 5.

    Cap'n Kev is already a true Loiners legend at only 29 years of age. A gifted player, an inspirational captain, a true gentleman and an all round decent chap to boot! He deserves masses of respect and all the plaudits he receives...........thanks Cap'n Kev!

  • Comment number 6.

    Am I alone in wondering why it is that, game after game, season after season, Leeds Rugby League Club consistently enjoy the rub of the green, the bounce of the ball, the benefit of key decisions? The fourth official must have been the only man on the ground who thought Leeds winning try against St Helens in the Super League Championship Final was not offside. The decision was so outrageous it raises genuine concerns about the integrity and honesty of officials when it comes to games involving the Rhinos. The Rhinos indeed – Jackals would be a much more appropriate sobriquet. They are the Germany of the oval ball………

  • Comment number 7.

    Paul Fletcher is talking complete nonsense when he suggests that it misses the point to say that St Helens lost because of the incorrect video decision. The fact is that nobody knows what the outcome would have been had the correct decision been given and the sides had remained one point apart. Only minutes earlier Eastmond had been denied (correctly) by the video referee and, notwithstanding Leeds excellent kicking game, St Helens were very much in the game. It would be a brave man who would have predicted which way the game would have gone. Awarding a try to Leeds at that stage effectively put the game beyond reach.

    It is one thing to lose to a 50:50 decision or even to a mistake made by a referee in the heat of the moment. However it is simply not accpetable for a video referee who has as much time as he needs to get a decision right, to make such an obvious error and I really hope that some action is taken in respect of this.

  • Comment number 8.

    "Hello, I'm Paul Fletcher and I mainly write about life in the Football League"

    I suggest you stick to the day job, Paul! Don't come on here pretending you know about rugby league and the goings-ons in the sport behind-the-scenes!

  • Comment number 9.

    Saints fans complaining about dodgy refereeing decisions? I don't know how they have the cheek to try and claim that the refs are biased against them. They've always had the rub of the green far beyond any other club in the modern era, I've lost count of the number of times the Bulls have been robbed against Saints.

    Leeds won because they were the better side. They fully deserved their win. Sinfield is a legend of the modern game and fully deserves his success.

    Compare the dignity of Sinfield with Sean Long, a man so without morals that he actually bet on his own team to lose. And then understand why, as a Bulls fan, I can admire Leeds and their success.

  • Comment number 10.

    northernlondoner - thanks for your post. Saints, particularly under Ian Millward, pulled off several sensational comebacks. It was foolhardy to write them off, especially if they were playing Warrington.

    However, I honestly believe they didn't have anything left on Saturday. Looking at the sluggish way - and that is being generous - they retrieved kick after kick deep into their territory as the match wore on, it was there for all to see that they were out on their feet. They were shattered. I spoke to a couple of their players afterwards expecting to hear that they have been hard done to by the video referee. They would have had a point but they chose instead to pay tribute to the kicking game of Leeds.

    Sure, I take your point, they might have pulled off something amazing if the Smith try had been ruled out. I just don't think so.

    Sham123 - Saints fan? Several people seemed to think I was after reading my pre-Grand Final blog.

    What I will say is that the decision to award the decisive Smith try does raise questions. I thought he was ahead of Danny McGuire when the half-back kicked. Aren't video refs supposed to eliminate the human error that must be expected of a ref looking at action at full speed?

  • Comment number 11.

    Paul, you are entitled to your opinion that Saints had nothing else to offer. The evidence, including the Eastmond effort, suggests otherwise. And I wouldn't have regarded a comeback from one point down in a close and pulsating game as falling into the category of "sensational". But your blog implies that the video referee decision didn't matter. This is the point I took issue with. None of us will ever get the chance to find out whether it mattered or not.
    The fact that the Saints players were magnanimous in defeat (and I join them in applauding the Leeds kicking game which was magnificent) should not mean that we gloss over a huge mistake which effectively closed off the game 8 minutes early.

  • Comment number 12.

    RE: Smiths try. I thought this was a stone wall offside (and hoped it was), however what is the official ruling? is it behind the ball or the player, playing the ball? The commentators were comparing Smiths position with the kickers Maguires back leg, but if it is the ball, then it is pretty much bang level though Smith is leaning somewhat.

    Either way, can't deny it was a great bit of anticipation and huge hammer blow to Saints.

    1 to 2 point deficit coul easily be turned around Paul!

  • Comment number 13.

    Sham123 - Do tell us your thoughts on the grand final in blog form then. Or simply go away....

    Good article, Paul. On first inspection Smith looked offside. On second inspection Smith looked offside. I would be very interested to hear the video referee's thoughts on his decision.

    It would be nice to see 2 different teams there next year though. We will see how it pans out...

  • Comment number 14.

    Saints got a taste of their own medicine, the rub of the green going completely the other way. About time. What goes around comes around as they say.

    Leeds are going to be tough to beat again next year, but well done to them for Saturday night. EVEN IF THE TRY WASNT GIVEN, they would still have won.

    All the stains fans will disagree, but hey, i think there is only them that will. The rest of SL have been waiting for this to happen to Saints for a long time.

    Good BLog.

  • Comment number 15.

    The article was about Kevin Sinfield and his standards. Both are good and deserve praise. He's modest and an all round trier. He's also an admirer of Nelson Mandela. I think we need more attention to good sportsmen( & women) and not to rowdies.

    Yet, some people have to air their views on the video refs decision on the third Leeds try. I thought Smith was offside, but he was leaning forward and were his feet behind the ball at the moment Danny McGuire kicked it?

    The offside line is drawn at the point of impact of McGuire's boot on the ball, not the rest of his body. Smith's entire body was in front of his feet as he began to run. I am not sure the video ref got it wrong.

    Any way it was Leeds' 3rd try and St Helens scored only one. Ironically, if Kevin Sinfield had been on normal goal kicking form, Leeds would have led by 5 points before score, not one.

  • Comment number 16.

    what a great column. one of the best ive seen wrote about kev. he is the ultimate role model. doesnt drink doesnt smoke,lives and breaths rugby league. always as. honest decent family man. a true legend of the game,who as proved his critics wrong. i just hope tony smith gives him a leadership role in the england side. let kevin lead them around and then kick at the end of the set. its the only chance weve got. he needs to play the same role for england as he does for leeds. lead from the front!!!!

  • Comment number 17.

    Good blog Paul. I'm a Scotsman, live in Glasgow and am a huge Leeds fan and was thrilled to bits on Saturday night. Saints deserved more than 8 points by half time due to their dominance up to around the half hour mark but time after time they went for the high bomb when maybe a low grubber now and again might have paid off. In fact, their try did come from a low kick which took a lucky deflection and even then it wasn't 100% clear as to whether Eastmond knocked on. I've not heard that incident mentioned. The video ref gave it and you just get on with it. Lee Smith possibly was offside for the decisive score but them's the breaks and ALL teams benefit now and again. Anyway.... Good luck to France, NZ and the Aussies in the 4 nations !!!

  • Comment number 18.

    Have picked up on this blog a bit late (almost a week in fact!). Good article Paul especially the comments about Sinny. I'm am also a Scotsman, live in Edinburgh am a huge Rhinos fan and a season ticket holder, I even get to some away games. Fairly racking up the miles on the car but it's worth every minute. I was in the East stand at Old Trafford last Saturday and went down at half time for eats and drinks. On the screen in the concourse was a shot of the Saints dressing room. The team looked out on their feet, the body language, especially from Sean Long, was of a team who had nothing left. I agree with you Paul if Lee Smiths try had been chalked off I think the result would have been the same. Great game, looking forward to Elland road in March and the return of Melbourne Storm.


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