IT was reassuring to hear Kevin Sinfield describe his new role as Leeds Rhinos’ director of rugby as his “dream job” yesterday.
Since leaving the club in 2015, the Rhinos legend departing having amassed seven Super League titles under his captaincy, he has always looked a little out of place.
I know the expectation here, I’ve lived and breathed it since I was 13. I know exactly what it’s about, the support is incredible and I hope they jump behind us now.Kevin Sinfield
For all he was well-suited to rugby union, his brief sojourn with Yorkshire Carnegie never did quite fit.
Similarly, for all the great work he has done as RFL rugby director over the last 18 months, particularly with the England team, one of the modern era’s finest players never truly looked right in a suit for the governing body.
Leeds Rhinos is his home. Even if he is from Oldham.
It has been a busy week at Emerald Headingley, starting with Monday’s sacking of head coach Brian McDermott – the most successful coach in Super League history – and ending with a new management set-up and what everyone at the club hopes is two points at Castleford tomorrow.
Clearly, Castleford will have something to say about that especially after they were given a lesson in Perpignan just a week ago.
However, undeniably, all eyes will be on ex-England captain Sinfield and Rhinos’ new head coach James Lowes when they arrive at Wheldon Road for a derby between these great clubs that has suddenly become just as interesting as their Grand Final last year.
Ex-Bradford Bulls head coach Lowes, who left the same role at Yorkshire Carnegie a month ago and has been working with Leeds on a casual basis this term, has been appointed in a new-look set-up instigated by Rhinos chief executive Gary Hetherington.
Lowes, of course, was initially McDermott’s assistant before leaving for Odsal in 2014 and, at one point, was also Steve McNamara’s right-hand man for the England national side.
The backroom staff put in place by McDermott will continue until the end of this season before Sinfield carries out a review of the coaching department in order to prepare for 2019.
Director of rugby, though, is a newly-created position at Rhinos, one which Hetherington feels the 37-year-old – who scored a record 3,967 points in 521 club appearances – is ideally suited.
Sinfield and Lowes took training for the first time yesterday and will be in charge tomorrow as Leeds look to arrest that seven-game losing run that set alarms bells ringing at Headingley.
The defending champions are now ninth and have just four fixtures remaining to avoided a relegation battle in the Qualifiers; it is clear what Sinfield and Lowes must do in the immediacy.
In the longer-term, Hetherington feels the club have made a crucial change in tack.
He said: “When a club finds itself in the situation Leeds Rhinos are in, three key areas come under close scrutiny: the senior management, coaching team and players. At the end of last week we believed some change was required. Senior management over the past 22 years has effectively comprised of the chief executive and the head coach.
“Kevin is a new appointment and will become a key member of that senior management group.
“He takes over several of my duties, handles first-team player promotion, retention and recruitment and all previous duties of the head coach – team selection, first team preparation, performance and results.”
Admittedly, it was not long ago that Sinfield insisted he never wanted to even be a coach.
Now, though, he said: “The best leaders I’ve worked with have courage and are prepared to take risks at certain times.
“Gary (Hetherington)] has certainly done that. From my side I could have looked at this job for the next 30 years and wished I’d done it; I could hide away or do something about it.
“I’m passionate about the club, love the place and don’t think I’d have accepted the role if I didn’t truly believe it was the right thing. I look at the coaching staff we have in place and playing group and I’m pretty confident that, hopefully, pretty quickly we can turn things around.
“I know the expectation here, I’ve lived and breathed it since I was 13. I know exactly what it’s about, the support is incredible and I hope they jump behind us now. If they do I’m sure they won’t be disappointed.”