DEPARTING Leeds Rhinos legend Kevin Sinfield has revealed Yorkshire Carnegie is the only side he would ever have left them for.
The former England captain stunned the rugby league world yesterday by announcing he will finish his remarkable 19-year success-laden career with Leeds at the end of this season to start a surprise rugby union journey with their sister club.
Sinfield, 34, is the most successful captain in Leeds’ history, having led them to six Super League titles, three World Club Challenges and, crucially, a Challenge Cup last August.
At last ending that long wait for Challenge Cup glory – the stand-off had lost in all five previous final appearances – has clearly played a part in the player’s decision to switch codes knowing his set is now complete.
However, the player – Oldham-born but an adopted son of Leeds – revealed the chance to stay at Headingley, where Carnegie are also based, was central in his thinking, too.
Asked if he was contemplating a future away from there when he decided to quit Leeds, he said: “I’ll be brutally honest, it happened at the same time.
“If the opportunity of playing rugby union wasn’t here I’d have played another year (with Rhinos). I wasn’t retiring. I love the place. People talk about home-town boys and what it means to them.
“But I’ve been here since I was 13. The bond I have, the relationship with people who work here and with the fans... you don’t just throw something like that away.
“I’d have gone again next year in particular as it would have been my 20th season but I didn’t want to get to the stage where I look back and had regrets.
“The challenge this offers me now, with Yorkshire Carnegie, will make sure the last couple of years will be really enjoyable.”
Sinfield’s capture is a major coup for the new owners of the Championship club, who took charge at Christmas and have already signalled their intent to earn a return to the Premiership with the recent addition of former Gloucester and Sale Sharks chief Bryan Redpath as head coach.
Sinfield, who is just 55 points short of becoming the third highest points scorer in rugby league history, has signed an 18-month contract with Carnegie, starting in November.
Given his renowned kicking game and distribution, he would seem a perfect fit for the fly-half role in union and admits that is where he would like to play.
But the man who captained England in the 2013 World Cup admits he will be complete novice given he has never played the sport before at any level.
“I understand how difficult it’s going to be,” added Sinfield, even going in at union’s second-tier level.
“I don’t think it’s going to be a breeze. I know it’s going to be really tough but I want it to be that way as well; it’s the reason I’m coming – I want a challenge and feel like if we can get this club back in the Premiership, and staying there, then we’ve accomplished that.”
Sinfield’s Rhinos contract was not due to expire until the end of 2016.
But chief executive Gary Hetherington said: “When Kevin signed his last five-year contract in 2012 it was with the understanding he could decide to leave at the end of any season, unrestricted, provided we were notified at the start of the season so we could begin to plan for the future.
“He notified me six weeks ago and if any player in the history of our club deserves the right to choose when he moves on it’s Kevin Sinfield.
“He’s been an inspirational leader on and off the field for Leeds Rhinos over the last decade and I think there can be little argument that the success we have enjoyed would not have been possible without him.”
Sinfield’s big switch: Page 20.