KEVIN SINFIELD is the most successful captain in Super League history but the Leeds Rhinos star insists it is only recently that he has started feeling appreciated on the international scene.
He lines up at stand-off as England open their Gillette Four Nations against Wales in Leigh today with coach Steve McNamara ready to build his side around the player who has lifted a record five Grand Final titles as captain.
But for so long Sinfield, 31, admits he thought his sterling club form would never be replicated on the biggest stage.
“Up until 2009, it was a massive frustration,” he said, having struggled to persuade a succession of international chiefs his worth since debuting for England in the 2000 World Cup.
“I’ve been in and out, swapping positions, and I’ve certainly not done my best stuff. But I really enjoyed 2009. I felt like I was actually wanted here for the first time.
“I was asked to provide some of the things I bring to the team – getting us around the field – and it brought the best out of me.
“It was a great series. We fell short in the final but, hopefully, we can crack on this year and I can really stamp my authority on it.”
England gave Australia a scare for an hour of the 2009 Elland Road final before falling away but last year failed to qualify after winning just once – against Papua New Guinea – Down Under.
Sinfield missed that tour with an Achilles injury and, despite England’s woe, concedes fearing for his place when Leeds struggled for form earlier in the year.
He had also switched from his customary loose-forward role to stand-off but a brilliant surge towards the end of the campaign, which saw Leeds win Super League in unprecedented style from fifth, confirmed his class.
“People keep telling me I’m too slow but I think the qualities I bring to the team aren’t particularly pace anyway,” said Sinfield.
“Rangi (Chase) and Sam (Tomkins) can complement what I bring. I never count my chickens and certainly throughout this year when we were having those tough times with Leeds, England didn’t really enter my head; it was a case of trying to get things on track.
“But, if you get your form right for your club, you get the international call and I’m really happy to be here.”
In the Four Nations, Sinfield will find himself up against the world’s two finest stand-offs – Australia captain Darren Lockyer and New Zealand captain Benji Marshall.
“It’s not a bad set, is it?” he said.
“Darren Lockyer’s one of the best there’s ever been but it would be pretty disrespectful not to mention Lee Briers first of all and this Wales match has to be our focus.
“What he’s done in the British game has been outstanding. He’ll be their talisman and go-to man. To have the challenge of facing him is fantastic.”
Sinfield also revealed he had the opportunity to move to Australia at the end of 2002.
“The timing wasn’t right,” said the player, who became Rhinos’ captain the following year and made his 399th Leeds appearance in this month’s Old Trafford win over St Helens.
“I’d not won anything at Leeds and don’t regret not going as the last five or six years have been a really enjoyable part of my life.
“I had an offer – a three-year deal – and it was for a lot more than I could’ve got over here but it’s not about money, it’s about being happy and getting the best out of your rugby.
“And now, to win this (Four Nations), would be massive. Hopefully, we’ve got four big games in front of us and we can give ourselves a chance.”
England: S Tomkins (Wigan); R Hall (Leeds), J Reed (Brisbane), K Yeaman (Hull), T Briscoe (Hull); K Sinfield (Leeds), R Chase (Castleford); J Graham (St Helens), J Roby (St Helens), J Peacock (Leeds, capt), G Ellis (Wests Tigers), B Westwood (Warrington), C Heighington (Wests Tigers). Substitutes: G Widdop (Melbourne), A Morley (Warrington), J Jones-Buchanan (Leeds), J Wilkin (St Helens).
Wales (19-man squad): A Bracek (Crusaders), L Briers (Warrington, capt), N Budworth (MacKay Cutters), R Divorty (Featherstone), G Dudson (Crusaders) B Flower (Crusaders), T Frizell (Cronulla), A James (South Wales Scorpions), J James (Crusaders), D Jones (Halifax) C Kopzcak (Bradford), E Kear (Crusaders), P Lupton (Crusaders), C Roets (South Wales Scorpions), M Seamark (Wynnum Manly Seagulls), I Watson (Swinton), I Webster (Central Comets), L White (Crusaders), R Williams (Warrington).
Referee: H Perenara (NZ).