THEY are both renowned kickers, both masters of their game, but one has a slightly greater profile than the other.
However, Jonny Wilkinson, the man who kicked England rugby union’s side to a historic 2003 World Cup win in Sydney, earning global acclaim, has expressed his admiration for another player with a metronomic boot.
Former Leeds Rhinos and England captain Kevin Sinfield is firmly in the running to win the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award tomorrow night having become the first rugby league player even to be shortlisted for the prestigious prize.
Similar in many ways to Wilkinson – utterly professional, and a skilled playmaker with steely determination – Sinfield has never received as many plaudits as the former British Lion, understandably given his sport’s narrower appeal.
But Wilkinson, who remains the only rugby player of either code to win SPOTY after his success in 2003, is voting for him and revealed: “Kev’s the kind of guy you want sat next to you in the changing room.
“He makes the afternoon ahead seem a whole lot better and makes you feel there’s a reason to go out there and show what I can do because there’s a guy sat next to me that is going to bring it every time.
“To go out there in your own way and to do it quietly and lead in a respectful manner with great values over and over again.... not only is that a great sportsman, that’s a great person and for me that’s what this award represents.”
After ending his illustrious rugby league career by leading Leeds Rhinos to an unprecedented treble this year, Sinfield, of course, switched to union with Yorkshire Carnegie and is playing in Wilkinson’s old No 10 position.
Wilkinson added: “He’s the ultimate professional, the ultimate leader and someone I would sum up as saying he owns his performance.
“I think if anyone ever asked you the secret to success in sport at the highest level I think they’d use Kevin as an example.
“It isn’t necessarily running 100m and scoring tries or kicking a ball from 50 yards, it’s just day-in, day-out excellence.
“I think that’s what people have got used to over the last 20 years – the fact that he plays the way he does is just Kevin Sinfield.
“He’s shown that it’s great to win things, but when I remember him I don’t remember all the trophies straight away; it’s the respect he’s shown and earned, it’s what he’s done for the sport.”
Similarly, Paul Scholes, the Manchester United legend and former England midfielder, has revealed his respect for Sinfield ahead of tomorrow’s show in Belfast when the SPOTY winner will be decided by a public vote.
Despite being a fan of Wigan – who Leeds defeated in this season’s Grand Final – Scholes remains a true admirer of the 35-year-old and cannot think of a more deserving recipient.
Granted, tennis ace Andy Murray remains favourite in front of Jessica Ennis-Hill with Sinfield third in the running, but Scholes, one of the world’s greatest midfielders in his pomp, said: “He’s such a dedicated professional athlete.
“He clearly looks after himself and to have played 18 years you have to be dedicated to your sport and he has definitely been that.
“He leads by example, which is great, especially when you have young players come in to the team. It was a dream year for him to finish with after a brilliant 18-year career.
“I can’t think of any one player who deserves it more than him for what he’s done in his last year.”
There are few people who know Sinfield better than Jamie Peacock, his former Leeds team-mate of 10 years who he succeeded as England captain in 2012.
He has been alongside the stand-off for six of Sinfield’s seven Rhinos Grand Final victories and in the treble-winning campaign when the West Yorkshire club also prospered at Wembley in the Challenge Cup and claimed the League Leaders’ Shield.
However, Peacock – who has now retired and taken on a role as Hull KR’s head of rugby – has long been committed to ways of improving the sport and widening its appeal.
On Sinfield’s SPOTY nomination, he said: “It’s huge and so big for the game.
“Kev hit the nail on the head himself when he said this is about the game and, instead of having four seconds on the BBC, we might have four minutes.
“There’s no form of marketing or communication that the RFL or clubs can do that is as powerful as being on SPOTY.
“Having someone who the game has produced and has the values Kev has as a person, I think it’s going to be the greatest advert for the game we could possibly have.
“I’m delighted for him and just want the game to unite behind him. I think there is a feeling of that – the bigger overall picture – but for what he has given the game he definitely deserves to be on there.”
Voting by phone: Will be available over the phone (numbers will be provided on the night of the awards ceremony) and via the BBC website.
Voting online: you will need to be registered with the BBC sign in system, BBC iD, by visiting https://ssl.bbc.co.uk/id/register