Kevin Sinfield: Leeds Rhinos legend returns as director of rugby

Kevin Sinfield applauds
Kevin Sinfield captained Leeds Rhinos to a domestic treble in 2015 - his final season as a player with the club

Leeds Rhinos legend Kevin Sinfield says he has taken on his "dream job" after returning to the Super League club as director of rugby.

The ex-England captain, 37, will take charge of his first game on Sunday when struggling Leeds face Castleford.

Leeds won seven Super League titles, two Challenge Cups and three World Club Challenges with Sinfield as skipper.

He spent 18 years with Leeds before crossing codes to play for rugby union side Yorkshire Carnegie in 2016.

Leeds sacked head coach Brian McDermott on Monday after seven successive Super League defeats and Huddersfield's win against Hull FC on Thursday sent the defending champions into the bottom four in the table.

After his retirement, Sinfield joined the Rugby Football League in their England performance unit and he will continue to work for the RFL one day per week until his contract expires at the end of the year.

James Lowes has been appointed first-team coach as part of a new managerial structure at Headingley.

'I love the club, I love the place'

Sinfield paid tribute to the departed McDermott, describing him as "the best coach Leeds has ever had", before outlining his own ambitions for the role.

"I could have looked at this job for the next 30 years and wished that I'd done it," said Sinfield.

"I could have sat in bed, put the covers over my head and hide away, or I could do something about it.

"I love the club, I love the place and I don't think I'd have accepted it if it wasn't the right thing."

Sinfield added that he "does not expect it to be all beautiful" but "has every confidence" in the team, who are faced with the possibility of needing to retain their Super League status via the Qualifiers, to turn their form around.

Chief executive Gary Hetherington confirmed Sinfield and Lowes would be at the helm until the end of the season, when the situation will be reviewed.

Sinfield 'putting legend status on the line'

Analysis - Dave Woods, BBC rugby league correspondent

You would imagine this will be a hugely popular appointment among Leeds fans.

Christened "Sir Kev" by Rhinos followers, Sinfield has undoubtedly been a modern-day hero at Headingley. A one-club man in his playing career, he captained Leeds to a multitude of honours.

He is also clearly well known to, and much respected by, the current players, many of whom he played with before his retirement at the end of 2015. He is cited by many of them as a cornerstone of the Leeds Rhinos culture.

There will be no awkward introductions and no surprises when he gathers the playing staff round for the very first time.

Kevin Sinfield
Kevin Sinfield's Leeds have fixtures against Castleford, Wakefield, Widnes and Salford before the Super 8s split

But this will be no easy entry into the coaching arena for Sinfield. He has four games to get the club into the top eight and out of the relegation mire. The probability is that they will need to win at least three of the four to secure a top-eight finish.

If they fail to do that, and finish in the bottom four, they will face what is predicted to be the most challenging Qualifiers series since the format came in. A host of Championship sides believe they have genuine chances of promotion at the expense of the unfortunate Super League sides who find themselves caught up in it all.

Sinfield will be aware that he is putting his "legend" status on the line now he is in charge of team matters for the first time. As Keiron Cunningham discovered at St Helens, being a former superstar player does not protect you from the harshest of criticism if the team you coach fails to meet the standards demanded by fans.

But it is also the case that if Sinfield does succeed in his new role, history will judge him as Leeds' most influential individual ever.

The new chapter begins on Sunday.

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