Why Kevin Sinfield is leaving Rugby League

Talking Rugby League with League Express editor Martyn Sadler

Like many people, including, I suspect, a lot of Leeds Rhinos supporters, when I first heard the rumours that Kevin Sinfield would leave Rugby League to join the Leicester Tigers rugby union club as their defence coach from next season, I was reluctant to believe the story.

Kevin is such an icon of Rugby League that it was almost impossible to imagine the game without him being involved in it, whether at Leeds or elsewhere.

And in leaving our sport to cross the great divide he follows in some big footsteps, notably Andy Farrell, Shaun Edwards, Phil Larder, Mike Ford, Graeme Steadman, Paul Deacon and plenty of others.

So in that sense it isn’t a surprise that someone with ambitions to coach finds an outlet in the other code.

But I don’t think any of those people I’ve mentioned were as iconic as Sinfield, who was recently awarded the OBE for services to the game and to charity, having done so much to raise money for Rob Burrow and the MND Association to help sufferers from motor neurone disease.

Essentially Kevin has explained his decision by saying that he was no longer getting much enjoyment from his role as director of rugby at Leeds Rhinos and he wants a new role where he is in much greater contact with players.

In other words, his philosophy is that if you’re not enjoying your job, you should search for something else to do, which is a philosophy I can fully understand, having changed jobs and lifestyle in mid-career myself for much the same reason.

Even so, at first glance it’s surprising that he isn’t enjoying life at Headingley, which is surely a massive challenge, both for him and for everyone else behind the scenes at the Rhinos.

Inevitably there will be some speculation that there is more than meets the eye behind his departure.

Has he fallen out with someone at the club?

Is he tired of waiting for Gary Hetherington to retire as the club’s chief executive, with the hope that he would one day step into that role?

Does he believe that he should be earning more than he is?

I don’t think that any of those explanations are correct.

Sinfield is a remarkably honest and straight individual, whose integrity is unquestionable.

That means that we have to take his explanation at face value.

Financially, I don’t think there’s any doubt that he will earn more in rugby union than he would do in Rugby League, because there is always more money about in union than there is in our sport, unfortunately.

I always remember having a conversation with Kevin in which, when he was nearing retirement as a player, he said that if it were up to him he would like to play Rugby League almost every day.

For someone who loved playing that much, sitting behind a desk certainly isn’t much fun in comparison to what you used to do. The only thing that can be comparable is to be involved in coaching.

Interestingly, I was told by someone in the know that Leicester had also sounded out Lee Radford before he got the Castleford job about joining their club, but Radford preferred a head-coaching role in the code he knew best to an assistant’s role in the code he’s less familiar with.

As a director of rugby at Headingley, I think it’s fair to assume that dealing with player-agents wouldn’t necessarily be appealing to Sinfield.

There’s a great deal of deviousness in that field, as agents play off one club against another, and I just can’t see that appealing much to Kevin, whose word is his bond.

During his time in Rugby League he has done some wonderful things, and I was privileged to present him with the Golden Boot in 2012 at a time when it was owned by Rugby League World magazine.

He showed his integrity when he recommended to the RFL directors that Wayne Bennett should be re-engaged as England coach after the disappointing Great Britain tour in 2019.

When the RFL decided not to take his advice, he quit as the RFL’s Director of Rugby as a matter of principle.

I would like to wish Kevin all the luck in the world in his new job, but with the hope that his absence from Rugby League isn’t a permanent one.


French delight

Last week one of our readers contacted me to comment that we had failed to note something that was truly historic.

That was that the two French clubs in Super League and the Championship were both at the top of their respective leagues, with the Catalans having a win percentage of 88.89% and Toulouse having an unblemished win percentage of 100%. They were ahead of Featherstone Rovers on points difference percentage.

A week later they are both still at the top, although neither side has had a game at the weekend because of Leeds’ problems with Covid and Bradford not travelling to Toulouse because they are a part-time club.

To see the two French sides leading the tables is truly unprecedented and historic and I plead guilty to not having made a note of this last week.

Of course Toulouse have yet to play a home game this season, but so far they have played seven games and their average score is around 50-10. It looks as though the only side that can genuinely challenge them is Featherstone Rovers, who also have a 100% record.

What a Grand Final we would have to look forward to if it ends up with those two teams in it.


Shaun’s big day

Shaun Wane was appointed as the England coach on 3rd February 2020, which was the same date that Kevin Sinfield stood down as the RFL’s Director of Rugby.

He was appointed in the expectation that he would be coaching against the Australian tourists in the autumn of last year.

Unfortunately that never came about because of the Covid pandemic, but at last he has the chance to coach an England team against the Combined Nations All Stars this Friday at Warrington.

The game will obviously have a much lower profile than a Test series against the Kangaroos, but it is important that England perform well to give us all some hope that they can win the World Cup this year, which I am confident will go ahead, despite the third wave of Covid that some experts are predicting.

Fortunately the vast majority of us will have been fully vaccinated by the autumn, and I hope that World Cup administrators will persuade all the players who will be taking part to be vaccinated also for obvious reasons.

I’m delighted to see that Jake Connor will play for the All Stars and the contrast between him and Sam Tomkins, who will surely play at fullback for England, will be great to see.

I can’t wait for the kick-off, although it’s such a shame that there are so many other Super League games taking place on the same night.

Martyn Sadler’s ‘Talking Rugby League’ column can be read in League Express every Monday morning, or Sunday evenings for digital subscribers. You can take out a subscription here.