England captain Sinfield eagerly relishing biggest game of his life

Kevin Sinfield lines up a conversion.
Kevin Sinfield lines up a conversion.
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KEVIN SINFIELD is instantaneous with his response: he is about to embark on the biggest game of his career.

Considering he is the reigning Golden Boot holder as the sport’s greatest player, has played in three World Cups, won six Grand Finals with Leeds Rhinos, featured in five Challenge Cup finals and hoisted the World Club Challenge trophy three times, it says plenty about this afternoon’s appointment.

Leeds will probably never have a more decorated captain and, after more than 400 games, his success in leading them to silverware may never be matched.

But, despite his 15-year love-affair at Headingley, England is something different.

“The club stuff is fantastic and I’ll never discredit anything we’ve done with Leeds,” he said ahead of today’s World Cup semi-final with New Zealand.

“But this is about the here and now. All those games have gone and the most important game you’ll play is the next one.

“For us, a semi-final of the World Cup and with what’s at stake, is bigger than any Grand Final.

“I think representing your country is the pinnacle and to play in a World Cup and be in a semi-final certainly is the biggest game of my career, very much so.

“There’s some lads who played in the semi in 2008, too, but being at home, being at Wembley, this is certainly the biggest one. Certainly for me.”

At 33, Sinfield knows he will not get another chance to lead his country to glory. There is no 
tomorrow for him.

But at the same time, he is constantly aware of the bigger picture and realises the importance of making next week’s Old Trafford final for the greater good of the game here as a whole.

England have failed to do so at the previous two World Cups, the last time they reached the finale being 1995 when they, typically, fell against Australia at Wembley.

“It is huge,” added the 33-year-old. “I was asked the other day ‘would it be a failure if we didn’t make it?’

“I am not quite sure I said it would be. What I said was we needed to improve on the last two.

“That’s hugely important. From my point of view – and I am an optimist – I wouldn’t take that view at this moment in time.

“I think we all understand, as a group, how big it would be for English rugby, in particular, if we could make the final. And it would be great not just to go one better but two better.”

Though he was present at both the last two tournaments – here in 2000 and in Australia five years ago – he played in neither losing semi-finals against the Kiwis.

Thirteen years back, Sinfield was still a rookie who debuted in the group stages against Australia but did not play when it came to the knockout phase.

“In many ways you are a bit naive,” he recollected.

“You are itching to play in every game; you perhaps can’t understand why you are not playing.

“I am sure there is some of that in this environment.

“As you get older you get more understanding and appreciate more the calibre of player around you.

“Though you are confident, I think perhaps some of the arrogance is rubbed off you and you are more rounded.

“I remember the (2000) semi for different reasons. It was a bit of a shocker (England lost 49-6 to New Zealand at Bolton).

“I remember Jamie Peacock chasing back 80 metres and someone else picking a fight with Joe Vagana. Not a good idea.

“It was a big eye-opener for me at that age. Certainly a great experience.

“As a young lad, you want it here and now. I completely understand that.

“That’s what I was like. It’s easier for someone a bit older to say ‘don’t worry, you will get another one’ but that isn’t always the case.

“And that’s why it’s so important to take this opportunity we have on Saturday because you don’t know if you will get another one no matter how young or old you are.”

The 2008 tournament was a different experience again; after playing a significant role throughout under Tony Smith, also his then Leeds coach, Sinfield was dropped for the crucial last-four encounter in Brisbane.

To add to his dismay, the player’s parents had made the long trip from their Oldham home especially to see their son in action.

They will be at Wembley today when Sinfield is not only certain of his spot but also proudly leads out his country.

“They basically came out for the final group game, the semis and final, so they didn’t see me play that much,” he recalled.

“They had a great time and got fully behind England, though.

“I suppose when I got left out of the team for the semi in Brisbane it was nice to see some friendly faces and people who really care about you.

“Ultimately, when you’re in this environment you can only ever do your best so it will be great to have them there on Saturday.

“They don’t miss many, they love coming to watch and I need to thank them a great deal for being there.”

There is undoubtedly a sense Sinfield, such a consistently dominant force in Super League where he is the competition’s record points scorer, has unfinished work on the international stage.

“I’ve been very fortunate to have played in three World Cups but only in the group stages up until this one so for me to play in the quarter-finals last week was big,” he said, having steered England to an unconvincing 34-6 win over France.

“This week will be even bigger.”

That may be the case but invariably it is also provides the perfect sort of platform on which this 
remarkable player generally thrives.