Gareth Ellis: The return of King Kev to rugby league’s coalface is a boost for all

Welcome back: 'Rhinos director of rugby Kevin Sinfield. (Picture: Tony Johnson)
Welcome back: 'Rhinos director of rugby Kevin Sinfield. (Picture: Tony Johnson)
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It was a bit of a surprise when I heard my old team-mate Kevin Sinfield had taken over as Leeds Rhinos’ director of rugby but, on reflection, I think it’s fantastic for him, the club and rugby league as a whole.

It is a very fitting role for him. I’ve only been retired less than 12 months and Kev has been a little longer.

But I’m sure that he was was very similar to myself in that he lived and breathed rugby league while he was playing it.

So, the fact he’s now back on the coalface so to speak, right in the thick of it with Leeds and making a difference in terms of on-field performance and in Super League, I do think it’s fantastic for the sport.

And I am really chuffed for Kev. I think he will make a big difference and that’s what it’s all about isn’t it?

When you get rid of someone mid-season, like Leeds did with Brian McDermott, you’re looking for a bit of a spike in performance.

For myself this year’s been a massive learning curve and whatever happens after this year in terms of my role, this experience will be something that I will always value.

Gareth Ellis

It happens a lot in football. When teams are struggling and fighting against relegation they normally try and find something to spike them and Leeds are in that position I suppose.

It is something they have experienced before – not on too many occasions – and there are currently in a bit of a fight.

I’m sure Kev will be putting some things in place for the immediate future but also I’m sure his long-term vision for Leeds will be something that will undoubtedly be a success.

With two games to go, it’s looking like they’ll be in the Qualifiers and face that threat of relegation but I think Rhinos will be fine.

Having played alongside Kev he was someone who I used to look at before a game and think ‘I must play well as a I owe it to people like Kev Sinfield.’

He was that sort of player and there’s not many around who have that sort of presence anymore; you almost feel you have to play well for them as well as yourself and your team-mates.

I’m sure he’ll draw on those same qualities now to lead from the front but also he’ll get the boys behind wanting to get the best out of themselves as well.

I’m sure he’ll get buy-in from them all.

The director of rugby role is quite common in rugby union and, for a lot of them, it is more of a managerial role with the coaching is left to someone else in this case James Lowes.

But I can’t imagine Kev’s not going to be involved and rightly so. With the knowledge of the game he has and his affiliation with Leeds – I know he loves the club and he’ll want to make as big a difference as possible.

With his experience working in the administrative side of things and performance for the last couple of years with the RFL I’m sure he’ll draw on all that experience as well to fulfil that director of rugby role and title that he’s got.

It is different to what I do as football manager at Hull FC as I’m not involved in coaching.

For myself this year’s been a massive learning curve and whatever happens after this year in terms of my role, this experience will be something that I will always value.

I’ve seen the administrative role from the other side of the fence now. Whatever happens, my heart is probably in performance and being involved with the team, feeling like I’m having an impact on players and their performance.

That’s similar to how I was as a player; trying to make a difference and getting the best out of people.

But this experience of the last 12 months has been massive for me and I’ve learned so much. I’ll take that into whatever I do next year. It’s been great learning this side of the business but we’ll have to see where it goes.

I think you retire almost having had enough of rugby at the time; you’re glad to sort of see the back of it.

But when you’ve not been as involved as you were and you start to miss it a little bit and realise why you love the game and that’s certainly the case with myself at the minute.

I don’t know yet what will happen next year. I’m very grateful to Hull FC for giving me the opportunity to stay involved in the game – there isn’t a job for everyone – and I am quite happy doing what I’m doing and looking forward to having an impact off the field.

But it was always like a test of the water. I’m really passionate about Hull FC and want to be involved wherever I can but I want to get the best out of myself, too, in terms of having the biggest impact in whatever role that maybe.

As for Brian Mac (McDermott), he is the successful coach in Leeds’ history but having found themselves in this position no matter how successful you are you’re only as good as your last run of games.

It is a sad state of affairs but as a coach you almost have to accept that there is a shelf-life there.

Brian had been there eight years and Leeds probably did feel it was a time for a change.

He was assistant at Rhinos when I was there and was great for me. You could tell then he would become a quality head coach and he’s proved that.

And another thing...

Thanks to everyone who supported us on the RACE across Europe bike challenge.

We’re back home now and it was amazing – but tough at the same time. The actual bit everyone expected to be tough – riding and clocking about 400 miles each over six days – turned out to be the best bit.

Some of the scenery, particularly around Austria and Germany and into the Alps and Pyrenees, was spectacular. The lack of sleep over the six days was the toughest bit.

You were in and out of the car on your bike for eight hours at a time when you were doing your 20-minute stints and then you’d get to the rendezvous point where you’d meet the other four riders.

They’d then set off and you would, in theory, have eight hours off. But really it was nothing like that! We’d try to get our heads down but the RVs we were in were driving up roads and we were rattling around like we were in a washing machine trying to get sleep! We’d probably had about 12 hours sleep in six days but what a brilliant experience.