Sinfield ready to move forward from self-imposed England exile

AT international level he is no longer walking the walk, but Kevin Sinfield has revealed how talking the talk helped him get over the wrench of retiring from Test rugby.

Kevin Sinfield.

Sinfield called time on a 40-cap international career, which included 14 appearances for Great Britain and 26 in an England shirt, two months ago, just weeks after lifting the Tetley’s Challenge Cup for the first time at the end of what proved to be his club Leeds Rhinos’ final victory in 2014.

Not surprisingly, one of the most eloquent and thoughtful – as well as trophy-laden – players of his generation was in demand to give his thoughts on England’s Four Nations campaign as a media pundit.

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Sinfield was a studio guest for the BBC’s television coverage of his former team’s opening game, against Samoa and said that involvement helped him make the transition from national captain to retired international star.

“I did summarising for the first game and that ended up being quite therapeutic,” said Sinfield.

“I wasn’t looking forward to watching it, but being in the studio and working on it made it a lot easier.

“I was always going to miss it especially considering I only made the decision in late August and it came out in early September, it is still pretty raw. But I thought they played really well against Samoa.

“They have got a pretty young side and I think it’s the best thing for England and myself now.

“Going forward, they are looking towards the next World Cup and that needs to be the next goal, the next target. It is great to have some players in the team who will be able to play in 2017. They’ve been able to get some combinations and try them out against New Zealand and Australia and that has been a real positive.”

According to Sinfield, the performance of his Leeds clubmates on tour has been a source of pride. He said: “Kallum and Hally (centre Kallum Watkins and winger Ryan Hall) have played really well and I think being on tour, without having played a game, will be good for Zak (Hardaker).

“We all know how well he played this year and the only question mark from outsiders is his attitude and what he is like in camp. He has been great, fantastic. He has knuckled down, worked hard and shown great maturity. I am pretty proud of him.”

Hardaker was a controversial selection, despite having an outstanding year with Leeds.

He made an early exit from England’s 2013 World Cup squad and was banned for five club matches after making a homophobic remark in a Super League game against Warrington mid-way through the past season.

Hardaker has yet to feature in the current campaign, but Sinfield predicted: “It will have been frustrating and he will be kicking himself, wondering what he has to do to get in the team, but it will do him a world of good in the long run.

“He has had to keep his head down and work hard and that will be great for him. In years to come, England will reap the rewards and so will Leeds.”

While England were putting their Four Nations prospects on the line in a must-win final group game against New Zealand today, Sinfield has already set his sights on helping Rhinos improve on this year’s disappointing sixth-placed finish in Super League, their poorest since 1996.

“Having time off doesn’t stop you thinking about how you finished, but you have got to move on at some stage,” said Sinfield, who has undergone minor knee surgery since the end of the campaign. “After the Grand Final is probably the time to move on, but when I do sum last year up I’d describe it as bitter-sweet.

“To get the Challenge Cup was fantastic, but our form after that was not good enough. I felt going into the play-offs, even though we had lost the three league games after the final, if we won the Catalans game we would start to build some momentum.

“None of the places we could have gone after that put any fear into us. It was just a case of getting the Catalans game right, but we carried on some of our form from before (the play-offs) and for it to happen on almost the last play of the game was tough.”

Losing to the French side in their opening play-offs tie was a huge blow, Sinfield admitted.

“Everybody knows what the Cup meant to us, but the Grand Final means the same. To miss out was disappointing, but everyone’s looking forward to 2015. We have got some hunger and some frustration and, hopefully, we can use that to drive us forward next year.”

Rhinos began pre-season training at the start of this week, giving coach Brian McDermott more than three months to prepare his side for their First Utility Super League opener at Hull KR on Sunday, February 8.

“It will benefit us massively to get everybody together, working hard for the whole three months,” reasoned Sinfield. “We’ve only got three boys who’ll have a shortened pre-season and that is going to be huge for the group.

“From my personal point of view, I am in better shape now than I was at the start of the season. That should not happen. It’s partly to do with the World Cup going on so long last year, partly to do with my age and partly due to not having enough time to prepare for the season.

“Having only three players on England duty means the majority of the squad will be up to speed very quickly and we can hit the ground running next year.”