by James Oddy

Have you heard of Kevin Sinfield? You probably haven’t, but you should have. He’s a one club man whose led his side to 6 of the last 8 Super League grand finals, losing only one. A club record points scorer who has also been known to join striking workers on picket lines and grew up with Che Guevara posters adorning his bedroom wall.  A man who, after producing a faultless kicking game to send his Leeds Rhinos side into there 7th final in 9 years and awarded the man of the match, stated that he was simply ‘doing his job’ and instead praised the teams forwards for their hard work.

Sinfield first made his debut as a 16 year old, but unsurprisingly for such a physical sport as Rugby League, he only really began to come into his own in his early 20s. Made captain in 2003 at the age of 23, he has presided over an unprecedented period of success for Leeds, a club who had often flattered to deceive.  While from the exotic locale of Oldham, the team under his tenure has mostly been made up of locally born players produced via the club’s academy system. It’s a crop of talent that’s largely been kept together, and in a salary capped sport such as Rugby League, that is no mean feat.

Many of the players he captained were better players, at least in theory. Sinfield is more notable for what he can’t do than what he can. Despite an excellent passing and kicking game, he isn’t quite quick and agile enough to play at stand off. Despite a great work rate and good tackling technique, he isn’t quite big enough physically to play at loose forward. Yet, aided by 5ft 5 Rob Burrow (who rather discredits that notion of rugby players all being one size) and Danny McGuire, the three have formed an outstanding playmaking trio. His ultra professional attitude and coolness under pressure haven’t harmed him, either.

Yet at 32 and with his team mates similar ages or older, they face a stern test this Saturday against a Warrington Wolves side aiming to complete a league and cup double. The fact that Warrington beat Leeds 35 points to 18 in said Challenge Cup final shows just how strong and dangerous the team from Cheshire are. Leeds have also had to defeat the Catalan Dragons in the south if France and Wigan at the DW stadium, two big, tough, ultra physical sides on their way to the grand final. Warrington have had to work hard as well, but have the extra motivation of never having appeared at the Super Leagues showpiece event. Tony Smith, one of the best rugby league minds at work today, also coaches them. The fact that he used to coach Leeds, and was a massive influence on Sinfield’s early career only adds to the intrigue.

Rugby League may indeed be a minority sport, but on a no doubt rainy night this Saturday at Old Trafford, Kevin Sinfield could cement himself as a great, not just of this sport, but any.  With tickets as little as 16 quid, it’s not a substantial price to see if it could happen.