Dave Craven: King Kev's homecoming can help bring unity to Headingley

I don't mind admitting, when I saw the Leeds Rhinos' trail on Twitter yesterday stating '˜He's Coming Home' my initial thought was: Wow, Tony Smith really is on his way back.
Kevin Sinfield  the new Director of Rugby at Leeds Rhinos. Picture Tony Johnson.Kevin Sinfield  the new Director of Rugby at Leeds Rhinos. Picture Tony Johnson.
Kevin Sinfield the new Director of Rugby at Leeds Rhinos. Picture Tony Johnson.

That was one of the rumours doing the rounds on Thursday night when, in a rarity for rugby league media, no one truly knew who was going to be announced as the club’s new head coach the following morning.

Rhinos kept it so well-guarded that, for once, no one did get an inkling. Fair play to them.

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So, imagine the surprise when that video rolled on a few more seconds and it wasn’t even outsider Smith (who, in many ways, would have been an understandable appointment) but… Sir Kev.

For many Leeds fans, Monday’s sacking of Brian McDermott was deplorable; he was their most successful coach ever, they would argue, he deserved more.

Perhaps the only appointment that could appease McDermott’s staunchest fan was that of Kevin Sinfield. Even if so left-field.

Of course, that is not the reason Gary Hetherington has made the move to bring their legendary captain back to his spiritual home; he sees the 37-year-old as the perfect man to head up their new-look management structure.

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Leeds have not had a director of rugby like this before but it is the modern-way of doing things and an understandable decision.

In doing so, there is also an acceptance from Hetherington himself that he, too – not just McDermott – has not always got things right; Sinfield taking over player recruitment and retention at Headingley was once one of Hetherington’s main remits.

The difference compared to other clubs who have gone down this route, perhaps, is Sinfield has also been put in charge of “all rugby matters including team selection, preparation, performance and results of the first team.”

His former Leeds team-mates Gareth Ellis and Jamie Peacock, for instance, who hold similar roles at Hull FC and Hull KR respectively are not in charge of team selection and don’t have coaching input either. Likewise Jon Wells at Castleford Tigers.

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Maybe this might just be an initial policy as Rhinos seek to steady the ship following their dismal run of seven successive Super League losses, that has placed them at risk of the Qualifiers and relegation for the second time in three years.

James Lowes has been installed as first-team coach until the end of the season, at least, and is a well-respected coach who knows these Rhinos players well.

He, like the rest of the remaining coaching staff, will be keen to impress Sinfield enough that he can be part of his blueprint for 2019 and onwards.

After spells as head coach at Warrington Wolves and Bradford Bulls, you do sense Lowes may be better suited to the day-to-day hands-on coaching work that it appears will be his role now.

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Sinfield – who will reduce his England rugby director role with the RFL down to one day per week – spent his entire 19-year playing career with Rhinos and is part of the club’s very fabric.

It is right and fitting, then, that he is now back and, given his talents across the board, it would be no surprise if he did eventually become 64-year-old Hetherington’s replacement at the very top.

First, though, is the task of winning enough of their next four games to avoid the bottom-four. Sinfield spoke about “putting smiles back on faces” and there is a feeling that is needed.

Players – both young and old – will respond to him. Perhaps most tellingly, outsiders will want to come and join the journey.