Leeds Rhinos have a remarkable habit of stepping up their game when it comes to big fixtures. A week ago, they earned their place in their third consecutive Challenge Cup by overpowering a Wigan side who sit atop the Super League table, and who would have most side’s quaking at the prospect of facing them in a semi-final in their current form.
As always, though, Leeds found another gear and the style they did it in was incredible. Last year, they came from fifth to win the Grand Final – a feat that no other team has ever managed – and this year, on the back of a four-match winning streak, the World Club Champions stepped it up once more.
Sitting in the stands that night, it was clear that the whole Rhinos squad’s hearts were in it, but one man who did stand out – who stands out for me as the best captain in Super League – is Kevin Sinfield.
The importance of captain selection was reinforced this week when new Huddersfield coach Paul Anderson’s first action was to demote Kevin Brown as the Giants’ leader and allow a group of senior players decide who will lead the team. The decision came largely as Brown has confirmed his move to Widnes for next season and it seems that players must be led by a loyal member of the team.
They don't come much more loyal than Sinfield, who is now 31, and his four-year contract with Leeds will mean that his entire professional career will have been spent at the club, having made his debut as a 16-year-old.
Since then, he has been steadily smashing through both Leeds and Super League records. In March he broke the record for the player with the most career points for Leeds Rhinos and in May he sailed past the 3000 career points landmark. And it’s not as though Sinfield’s been slowing down either. The great man has amassed these records as a result of his many years with the club, and even this season he is Super League’s leading goal kicker.
Watching him in the Challenge Cup semi-final though, every in-play kick was on target, he was on fire in terms of controlling the game and it really was incredible to watch. Incredible not because he was weaving through men and scoring full-length tries but because of how cool and collected he was, his precision and his ability to perform under pressure - something which, on the night, seemed not to come so easily to impressive-to-watch youngsters like Sam Tomkins and Josh Charnley. Sinfield is versatile as well. He can play from loose forward to half-back and it would be an understatement to call him an all-rounder.
What I really love about Kevin Sinfield though, is his utter humility. He can provide moments of world-class rugby and afterwards will still be keen to divert attention away from himself. In the press conference after the Wigan v Leeds game, he kept repeating, "I’m just doing my job". In fact, what he actually did was praise the men who didn’t really get a look-in in try-scoring terms and that’s what makes him a great captain.
"Everyone did the job today but our big men played a huge part," he said. "A kick’s only as good as it’s chase. Our chase was so aggressive and we had so much desire to get down there. I might get a bit of credit for some of the kicks here tonight, but it was down the pack, we knew we had to finish sets very well and that comes under my remit. I’m just doing my job."
While no one would expect him to come out and say that the win was all his doing, but in a lot of ways it was down to him. It was obvious that his leadership is respected and trusted amongst the Leeds side, as he controls the game and the others react to his decisions. Leeds are a strong team and they proved how strong at the weekend, by beating Bradford whilst Sinfield was sin-binned for illegally blocking a try. That’s the type of captain he is – putting himself on the line and putting everything into it even if it doesn’t always come off. I think when he hangs up his boots, whether in four years or if he can go on further, he will become an absolute hero in terms of Leeds Rhinos and Super League in general and he will thoroughly deserve the honour.