The A-List: KEVIN SINFIELD (Leeds & England)

By STEVE MASCORD

“I DON’T see myself as the best player in the world, at all, anyway.”. Well, there’s that question out of the way…

A-List is sitting in the Café Bar at Headingley with Kevin Sinfield, the captain of England and –as of January – holder of the Golden Boot for, well, er, the best player in the world.

Until being handed the award, 32-year-old Sinfield had probably only heard and read nice things about himself. He’s spent his entire career at Leeds, won six Super League titles, is the highest point scorer in his club’s history and got man of the match in last year’s grand final.

Players with resumes like that aren’t used to being derided. But after missing out on all of Rugby League World’s magazine’s positional gongs (he’s equally at home at five-eighth or lock), Sinfield was still given the Golden Boot by the magazine.

The judges who picked the best player in each position played no role in selecting the recipient of the boot. But suddenly everyone had to have an opinion on Sinfield’s worth – and most of those coming from south of the equator were not complimentary.

On one hand, he points out that he didn’t ASK for the award. On the other, he says the slaggings-off have not soured the honour in any way.

“I’m pretty cool with the whole thing,” says Sinfield, a quiet and thoughtful man but far from humourless. “To go on and win it has been pretty surreal. I was really surprised to win it.

“It’s a funny one, really. I think it’s more – in my case –recognition of what the team’s done over the past few years. If people want to have a crack at that, I’m big enough and old enough to cop that.”

The reaction from Australia, Sinfield says, did not surprise him one iota. “The last time a British player won it was 2004 and Andy Farrell, he got a similar response.”

As the quote at the top of this story indicates, the award has not given Sinfield the confidence that comes with being deemed world’s-best anything, nor has it made him more determined to “prove his critics wrong”, as the cliché goes.

“Team awards mean far more to me. I’d swap it every day of the week for a World Club Challenge win or a grand final win or – ever better – a World Cup win.”

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BUT why, exactly, was Sinfield’s selection so controversial?

He once placed 63 matches straight, was man of the match when Leeds beat Melbourne in the 2008 World Club Challenge, he also won man of the match in the 2009 grand final and can be seen calmly guiding the Rhinos around the park – while throwing himself into the tough stuff at every opportunity– any weekend of the northern hemisphere summer.

The answer to the question is, probably, that he is not deemed to have “proven himself” at international level.

This is where things get interesting.

Leeds - Kevin SinfieldSinfield has a reputation for being a conservative and cautious interviewee but he offers up this without prompting: five years ago, he almost quit international football.

“I suppose after the 2008 World Cup, I had a big decision to make,” he says. “My international career hadn’t gone how I’d have liked it to have gone.

“I found it difficult fitting into the set-up and playing how they wanted me to play. It was always different … I’m not making excuses but some of the things they wanted from that type of position, loose forward, at the time … I couldn’t provide, I weren’t big enough.

“I just wasn’t sure if I wanted to put myself through it anymore. I wasn’t getting any satisfaction out of it and the reason I play the game, ultimately, is that I get so much from it. I wasn’t getting anything from it at all. I wasn’t learning anything, it weren’t good for my family being away. I’m not sure how close I was. It was certainly something I thought about, I thought ‘do I need to keep putting myself through all this heartache?’.

“I’ve struggled to fit in before. Certainly in the early years, we had Farrell and (Paul) Sculthorpe who were very dominant at six and 13. I think, moving forward we tried to follow what a lot of NRL teams did in terms of the lock, as you call it, being more of a front row type. I’m only 90 kilos wet through. I can’t do what a Paul Gallen does. They’re better of picking someone else. “

“….in the last couple of years with Steve McNamara being in charge, he just asked me to play how I play for my club. And when you’re given that sort of responsibility and allowed to play a certain way, I think it’s a good fit.”

Most of us expect Sinfield to captain England in the World Cup. He doesn’t. “If I’m the best man for the job, brilliant. If not, I’ll stand firmly behind whoever is in charge.”

ON the morning ‘Sir Kev’ became our first A-List subject of the year, The Australian reported that Wigan’s Sam Tomkins was being offered to NRL clubs.

Sinfield himself almost joined Manly in 2002. He says the British game simply can’t afford an increase on the current Stg1.6 million salary cap and if that means players leave, sobeit.

“IWith the strong dollar and what’s happening in rugby union, they’re obviously going to attract one or two Super League players.

“Although Sam would be a huge loss to our competition, first and foremost we need to keep him in rugby league. If that meant he went to Australia, it would but a tough thing to take but it’s better than him going to rugby union.”

What is the overall state of the game in Britain?  A wry smile. “Unfortunately, we ain’t got three hours to go through it all.

“It’s been difficult, as we’ve seen, with your Bradfords and your Salfords (going broke). A successful World Cup would do some great things for our game – not just funding-wise but participation-wise and sponsorship-wise.

“Some of the negativity does concern me – not for my future but for the young lads coming into the game now. I have some concerns for them. Hopefully, through a successful 2013, we can provide a bit more security for those boys.”

To compare the studious, focused Sinfield with the more untamed likes of Ellery Hanley, Malcolm Reilly, Rocky Turner and Dick Huddart is to chart the evolution and gentrification of the game. Sinfield is a product of his age … but do Test players still hate?

“It’s hard to compare it to 10, 20 years ago,” Sinfield answers. “The professionalism now and the science behind it all, it’s taken the game to a new level. I wouldn’t say we hate Australia or New Zealand but when you talk about 40 years since we won a Test series against the Aussies, it shows you what we’re up against and I think we really enjoy playing against Australia.”

Then there’s this. “I sense that it’s more Australia having a crack at the Poms, as you call us. Perhaps that needs to change a little bit. Perhaps we have to be just as fiery and just as fiery back

“… probably the banter. I think on the field, it’s certainly intense and fiery. I don’t think there’s the punch-ups like you used to have but the game’s changed a little bit, hasn’t it?

So is he saying the English will be carrying on like Anthony Mundine come October? A smile. “If I’m honest, I don’t really know what I’m saying. I’ve never thought about it like that.”

If England are going to get mean this spring, it’s unlikely their captain will be leading the vitriol. But affability should not be mistaken for weakness.

When Kevin Sinfield recently went to the club dentist, he waved away the painkilling injection. “I don’t see the point of having an injection for five minutes’ drilling,” he explained.

The dentist then assumed this was normal for rugby league players and tried drilling the teeth of Sinfield’s team-mates without anaesthetic. They were horrified.

Sticks and stones, dental drills and names? You’ll never hurt him.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

TRAVELS: III

TravelsBy STEVE MASCORD

SOMETHING weird is happening here in America

This week’s column comes to you from Beantown – Boston. The temperature here is the same as Sydney, except here it’s Fahrenheit. You already knew weird stuff happens in this country, right? But I am referring to the great game of rugby league. There are two governing bodies here, the AMNRL and the USARL.

The AMNRL is the official body, responsible for fielding the US team in the World Cup this year. The USARL is the breakaway – and it happened for the reason it has always happened, because the clubs didn’t feel they were getting a say in what was going on.

But now the AMNRL website has disappeared and a question regarding its fate on the organisation’s Facebook page has gone unanswered.

A key figure in the breakaway, Mikhael Shammas, has meanwhile moved back to Beirut from Boston after starting the Boston 13s club.

Could we soon see a reconciliation of the warring parties? By the time you read this, I will be down in New York, sniffing around for information…

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INTERESTING movements in the NRL in the past 48 hours, with Michael Jennings reportedly about to sign with Sydney Roosters after gaining a release from Penrith.

Gold Coast, though, have joined the race for Jennings.

Souths had been linked to him but have now dropped off, getting Beau Champion back from the Titans instead.

Souths have been chasing centres for some months, with Kallum Watkins and Israel Folau mentioned in dispatches. There’s no reason to think they’ve given up on those two for future seasons, either.

MY Australian compatriots were not best-pleased by the anointing of Sir Kevin Sinfield as the Golden Boot recipient for 2012.

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DISCORD 2013: Edition Two

meprofileBy STEVE MASCORD

RUGBY league is getting $50 million from Tom Waterhouse. What would the salary for a fulltime integrity commissioner be? $150,000?

Discord is willing to go as far as to say that to accept this money from a bookmaker WITHOUT appointing a fulltime integrity commissioner would be reckless and irresponsible. Morally, it’s wrong to take the cash from betting without accepting the attendant responsibilities.

The Ryan Tandy affair was a salutary lesson in how dangerous punting can be to our sport. European soccer players being paid many times more than NRL stars have been tempted to cheat with big money at stake.

Horse racing and dog racing exist on the moolah that comes in from punters but they have stewards and rugby league does not. How far do we have to look around the corner to see a betting scandal that equals the Melbourne Storm salary cap crisis in scope and implication?

My point here is simple and doesn’t need paragraph after paragraph. The Independent Commission has delivered many of the things that the NRL needed as a major business but lacked.

This is another one.

If you’re going to get in bed with the devil …use protection and make sure it’s heat-resistant.

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IT’S interesting that Andrew Chalmers, the former chairman of the New Zealand Rugby League, looks like being involved in the new administration at Salford.

But having a club teeter on the brink with three weeks left before the start of the season is terrible. I hope there are no sanctions from the RFL as a result of the club’s financial difficulties. It seems a weird dichotomy that the governing body will help a club out of debt – but then dock them points for going broke.

Discord has no problem with clubs being held accountable for the actions of their fans because they have the power to lock out fans.

But fans, players and coaches have no power over incompetent administrators, do they?

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I’VE been asked for opinion on Kevin Sinfield being handed the Golden Boot. Please excuse me if I repeat myself in a few different forums on this.

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DISCORD 2012: Edition 45

By STEVE MASCORD
THERE are still a number of small indicators of cultural differences between Australia and the United Kingdom, even in this homegonised world.
The Australian penchant for chancing, maybe even for gambling, is exemplified thousands of times a day at ATMs. People form lines in front of each machine, trying to guess which will move more quickly. An older person or someone with lots of shopping at the front? Get out of that queue!
Here in England, almost without exception, people form one orderly line and split to whichever ATM (cashpoint, to most of them) becomes available first.
In recent weeks I have seen another phenomenon in England which I don’t think would ever occur in Australia: the masses having sympathy for the taxman.
When news broke that multi-nationals like Google, Amazon and Starbucks were avoiding tax by funnelling profits through their overseas affiliates, people were outraged to the extent of setting up Facebook action pages and organising boycotts.
“That’s schools and roads that weren’t being built” was the reasoning.
I know this might be a cliched way of looking at national stereotypes but my old AAP sports editor Bill Allan used to say cliches are there for a reason – there is inherent truth in them. And I find it hard to imagine too many Australians siding with the tax man in any circumstances.
Which is why the NSW government’s new policy on suburban grounds is interesting.
In the UK, the European Union’s plan to give money to wealthy professional soccer clubs was panned in the press this week. But Australians tend to pan governments for not giving professional sporting clubs money for ground upgrades.
I am not prepared to come out and say Leichhardt, Campbelltown, Brookvale, Penrith and Kogarah do not deserve more funding. In the short to medium term, they probably do. But in the end, clubs have the discretion to take their bigger games to bigger stadia. Do you, the tax- and rate- payer, want five or six Sydney Football Stadium’s to pop up around the city, one for each NRL club?
That is, if it comes out of your tax and rates … if it came from the NRL’s $1.025 billion TV rights then perhaps your answer would be different. It’s easy parochial mileage to bleat about the death of suburban grounds but the move away from them – just like the retreat from shoulder charges and playing concussed – is progress. Complain all you like, it’s going to happen.
Eventually, we need to let the government fund grassroots sport and let big time professional sport fund itself. John Grant keeps talking about the “business” of rugby league – relying less on taxpayer’s cash is one of the consequences of this change in focus.
I will say this: if rugby league cannot survive without poker machine income, it doesn’t deserve to survive at all.
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NEXT Monday is officially Sir Kevin Sinfield Day, in honour of England’s current captain.
The day has been declared by Leeds Rhinos so we know it will be observed worldwide. We all know that on Christmas Day we give presents. At Easter we give Easter eggs.
What should we do to mark Sinfield Day?
Perhaps, kick a goal – literally or figuratively. Either boot a Steeden between the posts at your local park or ask for a raise or get engaged.
Perhaps you could watch Seinfeld, since that’s how Kevin’s name was spelt in a match program during an early representative appearance.
Or shave your hair so you look like you’re balding, since BBC commentator Claire Balding said Sinfield was “the most impressive sportsman I’ve seen”.
Write in an tell Discord how you spent Kevin Sinfield Day.
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FEEDBACK now and thanks for all the comments, on various platforms including leaguehq.com.au and stevemascord.com.

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2012 Super League grand final: LEEDS 26 WARRINGTON 18 at Old Trafford, Manchester

By THOMAS McCOOEY
PAUL Wood’s testicle will forever be what the 2012 Super League grand final is remembered for in the wider world- but the night really belonged to to Leeds’ Kevin Sinfield
Sinfield scooped the Harry Sunderland trophy in his 78th consecutive appearance as his Rhinos chalked a record-extending sixth Super League title by beating Warrington 26-18 at Old Trafford.
Media outlets the world over which had no cause to even the mention the result soon found cause to report on events in Manchester on Saturday night – when it became public that Wood had played on with a ruptured testicle, calmly took part in post-match interviews, then went to hospital where it was removed.
But back to Sinfield. The Leeds captain scored a try and didn’t miss a shot at goal in a contest of high drama, with Warrington twice leading before winger Ryan Hall romped home with nine minutes to go to seal an end to the season which is becoming tradition.
Sinfield was the last Leeds player to join the dressing room celebrations as he walked in behind his coach, Brian McDermott and the Super League trophy and was authentically softly spoken as he took time to acknowledge the night’s opponents.
“Tonight was about coming here and playing as well as we could. I don’t think it was vintage but it was a tight, close final and Warrington are a great team, a great club and I have so much respect for the players, Tony Smith and Simon Moran and what they’ve built there but thankfully tonight we had enough,” he said.
Sinfield’s exemplary performance, quietly going about his business and leading by example earned him 27 of the 33 votes for the prestigious Harry Sunderland trophy for man of the match but Sinfield wanted to talk about his coach after yet another season where he finds himself a champion after unconvincingly limping into the postseason.
“Fifth isn’t good enough for a club like this but it was a tough year with the World Club Challenge, the amount of games we’ve had to play, the size of the squad, people involved in the Knights team and England teams, it’s a struggle for the coaches,” said Sinfield.
“I said last week he’s (McDermott) the best coach I’ve ever had and I’ll say that again tonight. The realism about him … you can see tonight what the lads think of him and I’m chuffed to bits for him. He’s had some bullets shot at him and he’s led from the front.”
At the final hooter Sinfield embraced McDermott on the pitch while celebrations kicked off around them but he wasn’t for revealing what was said.
“It was a private moment but I know how much it meant to him and he knows how much it meant to us,” Sinfield said. “We’ve been through a lot this year and come out the other end, I suppose, a bit like deja vu.”
Warrington’s Richie Myler scored first after just three minutes and it looked as if they were ready to justify their tag as favourites but Leeds, adopting open football in contrast to the smart kicking which saw off Wigan a week ago, found themselves 14-6  in front thanks to Sinfield’s try and an effort from Ben Jones-Bishop.
Warrington’s Tony Smith became the first man to coach two different sides in an English Grand Final and his primrose and blue outfit managed to tie the scores at 14-14 at the break when Brett Hodgson kicked a penalty for the markers not standing square after the hooter.
 And they returned from the sheds in the mood to regain the lead with a Ryan Atkins try which was tinged with controversy. In the build-up, Zak Hardaker spilled the ball in his own 20 thanks to a blow to the face from Richie Myler and the Leeds contingent in the stands was understandably disgruntled when the video replay flashed up on the big screen.
It was to be Warrington’s last strike, though, as Carl Ablett scored to help Leeds back in front with 20 to go before Ryan Hall’s try condemned Warrington to count another year on the 57 they have already waited for a league title.
Hall himself was relaxed after the game, watching the celebrations but choosing to sit and take it in, and he was thrilled to score the vital try.
“Emotions run through the body and (you are) obviously overjoyed,” he said.
Hall has five winners’ rings from the Leeds dominance of the competition in recent years and his captain, Sinfield has all six, but the skipper revealed why he hasn’t kept them.
“I gave last year’s to my dad,” he said, adding, “I’ve got six now so my kids have got two each. This next one’s going to my brother. I said to him last year if I was lucky enough and good enough to win another….
“I saw him in the crowd, a bit teary-eyed, and he didn’t want to (him to) take it because I think he’s going for a few beers and he’s scared of losing it so I’ll see him in the morning.”
Sinfield and Hall both snatched a few moments with their families before returning to the sheds – Hall posing for a picture for the family album with his partner and baby son and Sinfield also managed a quick gathering with his family.
“The special moments to go and share with your mum, dad, wife and kids just to have 30 seconds with them after a game like that is huge,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Warrington dressing room was a very different place, with forward Wood having to be carted to hospital with a ruptured testicle. he Tweeted :Now just sat in hospital with a ruptured testicle! Please don’t laugh it’s very very very painful! & embarrassing #wolves2012  [sic] and later confirmed he had had surgery to have it removed after he ‘got a knee one minute into the second half’.
LEEDS 26 (Kevin Sinfield, Ben Jones-Bishop, Carl Ablett , Ryan Hall tries; Sinfield 5 goals ) beat WARRINGTON 18 (Richie Myler, Joel Monaghan, Ryan Atkins tries; Brett Hodgson 3 goals) at Old Trafford, Manchester. Referee: Richard Silverwood. Crowd: 70,676.
Final team lists:
WARRINGTON: Brett Hodgson; Chris Riley, Stefan Ratchford, Ryan Atkins, Joel Monaghan; Lee Briers, Richard Myler; Simon Grix, Trent Waterhouse. Ben Westwood, Chris Hill, Mick Higham, Ben Harrison. Res: Adrian Morley (c), Michael Monaghan, Paul Wood, Mike Cooper
LEEDS: Zak Hardaker; Ben Jones-Bishop, Kallum Watkins, Carl Ablett, Ryan Hall; Danny McGuire, Kevin Sinfield (c);  Ryan Bailey, Brett Delaney, Jamie Jones-Buchanan, Jamie Peacock, Rob Burrow, Kylie Leuluai. Res:  Ian Kirke, Darrell Griffin, Stevie Ward, Shaun Lunt.
Halftime: 14-14. Harry Sunderland Trophy: Kevin Sinfield.