AS the most successful captain in both the history of Leeds RL and, latterly, the entire Super League era, it is hard to imagine Kevin Sinfield ever being anything else but a natural leader.
The countless trophies tell their own story and, equally so, in his own right, he has forged a reputation as one of the finest players of his generation across the globe.
It comes as a surprise, then, that someone whose trademark style is cool composure and the ability to perform consistently under immense pressure, still remains completely “in awe” of Ellery Hanley when their paths sometimes cross.
Sinfield will today join that legendary footballer in becoming the latest player to lead his country, captaining England for the first time against Wales in Wrexham.
Hanley – who wore the same No 13 jersey as Sinfield at Headingley but was more famed for his earlier starring role in a Wigan team already full of superstars – has been the dominant force underpinning his love of the sport.
“Ellery Hanley would be my big inspiration in rugby league,” said the 32-year-old.
“Around the late 1980s and early 1990s he was the figurehead for British rugby.
“What he achieved in the game, how he played and how he led teams left a big mark on me. Even when I meet him now I am still in awe of him.”
Admittedly, while both highly-esteemed players are best remembered as genuine loose forwards, they are both very different performers and, without doubt, different characters too.
For all his supreme talent, the taciturn Hanley had something of a ‘hate-hate’ relationship with the media, for whom he had little if any time.
That is in stark contrast to the newly-appointed England captain who has been praised from all quarters for his humble and eloquent nature when dealing with all such off-field affairs.
As England coach Steve McNamara, the man who has installed him as captain, once said: ‘He is the sort of guy you wouldn’t mind your daughter bringing home.’
Hanley had an instinctive match-winning ability with his dynamic running whereas Sinfield is more renowned for his outstanding kicking and telling passing.
Where they are similar is in the sense they are so both versatile, Hanley starting out as a freakish centre at Bradford Northern before evolving into a stand-off and, lastly, a prolific loose forward.
He represented Great Britain or England in all three positions and with equally successfully results.
However, whereas Hanley was always the first name on the sheet, Sinfield has, unusually given his vast club credentials, not always been uppermost in the thoughts of national coaches.
He admits it was not until the 2009 Four Nations final when Tony Smith used him in an unlikely hooking role but urged him to do just what he did so brilliantly for Leeds, that he felt at home.
Since then, McNamara has made him stand-off and clearly decided to build his 2013 World Cup side around the Rhinos hero – despite Gareth Widdop featuring there for NRL Grand Final winners Melbourne Storm.
The England coach adopted the old adage that the key is just to get your best players on the park regardless of role and, undoubtedly, Sinfield is one of those.
“I don’t really see myself in any particular position,” he maintains. “I know what my qualities and weaknesses are – I’m not going to say I can do what Sam (Tomkins), Rangi (Chase), Danny McGuire or Gareth Widdop can do.
“I don’t have lightning pace or I’m not going to rip teams apart on my own, but what I can do is get a team around a field and when I’ve got some of the talent around me like we have, I know how and when to give them the ball.”
Exactly. Sinfield, who first captained a side at Lancashire Under-10 level and then got a taste of the role as English Schools Under-16 skipper, also points to Manchester United legend Roy Keane as an inspiration.
“He had his run-ins with authorities, but I feel when he was at his best he played well every week,” he said. “And, when you’re a captain, you’re job first and foremost is to play well.
“He seemed very good at getting the best out of those around him. I’d like to think I can do a similar role here.”
Wayne Rooney, the avid Rhinos fan who recently captain England’s football side, has passed on his support ahead of this afternoon’s game which Sinfield hopes will be at the start of a long reign as his nation’s leader.
Renowned as being one of the fittest and most professional players on the circuit, there is no reason why his international career should not got continue well on past next year’s World Cup.
“I’ve got an idea of how long I’d like to play but I’m not going to tell anyone,” he said,
“I remember reading a piece with (Ireland RU fly-half) Ronan O’Gara saying he got sick to death of people asking him so he said 10 years.
“I’m not going to do that as 10 years would be crazy, but as long as I’m enjoying it and my standards don’t drop I’ll keep going.
“You play your best stuff when you enjoy it and I’m certainly doing that.”