League Express senior reporter Aaron Bower spoke with the RFL’s Kevin Sinfield earlier this week to discuss the England national set-up, the possibility of new faces being included in the Elite Performance Squad, Denver and much more..
Aaron Bower (AB): It was the first meeting of all the England squads on Monday night, Kevin – how did it go?
Kevin Sinfield (KS): “It was really good. It was really heartwarming to get all those senior boys back in the room. The energy and enthusiasm they create around playing for England is very special: and they’ve built that themselves. To now add the Knights in, with a sprinkle of youth and excitement, it’s extra special. It’s the start of that four-year programme where the target is the World Cup, and it was an enjoyable evening.
AB: What do these meetings do?
KS: Well, look at the Knights. It’s unconformable in any walk of life to be thrown in a room and asked to be friends with people you’re enemies with the majority of the time. It’s tough, but these make a huge difference further down the track; let’s get them eating together, joking with each other and seeing them in a different environment that doesn’t have club affinities attached to it. In that room, we’re all Team England.
AB: Was that the kind of thing which held England back a fraction when you were playing then, perhaps?
KS: Possibly. The main thing which held us back was that we didn’t perform as well as we should have. For whatever reason, you can put that down to the on-field stuff – as for club boundaries and things like that.. who knows? We’re all now striving to create an environment people want to be a part of: I do know that. There’s not only myself; there’s Jamie Peacock, Paul Wellens, Paul Anderson, Paul Sculthorpe.. the staff are brilliant. Although it was uncomfortable for the lads who were there for the first time I’m sure, they will now go away thinking they can’t wait to pull that jersey on.
AB: On the Knights – what can they take from these meetings?
KS: It’s huge. To get the opportunity to work alongside some of the best quality players we have in our sport and try to get them ready to play Test rugby is massive. But also to have them in the room rubbing shoulders with Sean O’Loughlin, James Roby, Chris Hill, Ryan Hall.. players who are seasoned internationals, that can only help. Why wouldn’t we want that? The Knights is something I’m particularly proud of and passionate about.
AB: When will they be playing? Is there a schedule close to being finalised?
KS: Yes. But the contract hasn’t been signed yet and we’re waiting for a signed contract. I know everyone is waiting for an announcement and I think you’ll understand why its taken so long and we can put an explanation behind it when it’s done.
AB: It must have been pleasing to get Denver finalised – how important is it for ‘Team England’?
KS: It’s another step in the right direction. The balancing act is getting the right life experience with the right intensity of competition, but we feel Denver will provide both those. To play against a top nation like New Zealand, who we’re very respectful of, in a different environment: it’s just a win-win situation.
AB: Was there ever a moment you feared it would fall through?
KS: Yeah, maybe. There was a concern and I understand now that those concerns were probably not for the right reasons but some of the concerns the clubs had, I understood them. They wanted to make sure players were looked after and hopefully it has come across that our players are at forefront of every decision we make. Our communication streams with the RLPA and NRL are as good as they’ve ever been – and our Super League clubs have been completely supportive. Long may that all continue.
AB: On the EPS; there is a space in there after Kevin Brown’s retirement – can someone step in?
KS: There will be another Elite Performance Squad picked after the Denver game that will come together and form the make-up for the rest of the year: but as was communicated when the first one was announced, the door is open for everyone who is English-qualified. I’m very keen to stress that the door is not closed on anybody whatsoever, but it’s also open for someone who isn’t performing well, or who doesn’t display the right attitude or what we want, to go too. An example of someone forcing their way in would be Alex Walmsley – who wasn’t in the first EPS last year, yet was included in the mid-season group to go to Australia.
AB: And the backroom staff? Denis Betts hasn’t yet been replaced..
KS: At the minute, our backroom staff is confirmed for Denver and I think after that game, we’ll make a call. I’ll be spending some time with Wayne, we’ll chat through where we go next and what the best thing for the country is.