LEEDS captain Kevin Sinfield was hailed as an “immortal” after demonstrating exceptional skill and bravery to lead his side to a record-breaking sixth Super League title.
The veteran stand-off picked himself up after an horrific clash of heads with Warrington hooker Michael Monaghan early in the second half of yesterday’s Grand Final to guide the Rhinos to a magnificent defence of their crown with a 26-18 win over Warrington.
Sinfield scored one of Leeds’ four tries and kicked five goals from as many attempts but that told only half the story of his remarkable contribution to the Yorkshiremen’s sixth Grand-Final triumph, which made them the most successful club in the Super League era.
“He never ceases to amaze,” said Leeds chief executive Gary Hetherington. “I think Kevin will go down as one of the immortals of the sport.
“His achievements are quite remarkable. He’s a great personality and epitomises everything about the Leeds Rhinos team.”
Sinfield was badly hurt in a two-man tackle early in the match but picked himself up to create and finish the move that led to the Rhinos’ equalising score, taking Carl Ablett’s offload to register his first try in seven Old Trafford title deciders.
He then edged his side in front with a penalty and converted other tries by Ablett and wingmen Ben Jones-Bishop and Ryan Hall to cap a memorable 78th consecutive appearance for his club and clinch a second Harry Sunderland Trophy as man of the match after scooping 27 of the 33 journalists’ votes.
Sinfield, who was also man of the match in 2009, has now led his side to all six Grand Final wins in just nine glorious years to confirm his status as the greatest captain in Leeds’ history
“He had a great game,” acknowledged Warrington full-back Brett Hodgson, who had similarly recovered from a major head knock to win the man of the match award in the Wolves’ Challenge Cup win over Leeds at Wembley in August.
“He’s excellent at this time of the year.”
Leeds fans among the 70,676 crowd held their collective breaths when Sinfield crumpled in a heap for the second time early in the second half but his team-mates remained relaxed.
“We never had any worries over Kev getting up,” said hooker Shaun Lunt. “He’s one of the toughest players I’ve played with.
“He’s had a lot of knocks through the year but he just keeps going and he’s had two ever-present seasons consecutively now.
“I can’t speak highly enough of him. I never appreciated what a fantastic player he is until I got to play in the same team as him and it shows with the amount of times he’s lifted that trophy.”
Former England captain Jamie Peacock said: “We know he’ll get up. They put pressure on him but he keeps doing it, he’s brilliant.
“He’s the greatest kicker in either code in this country, probably the world, under pressure and he nails every kick. He’s fantastic for the team.”
On a night of memorable achievement, the 34-year-old Peacock celebrated an unprecedented eighth victory on his record-breaking 10th Grand Final appearance while his 18-year-old team-mate Stevie Ward became the youngest player to win a Grand Final.
Ward, who combined training with his A-levels this year, sacrificed a place on the England academy’s tour to Australia after breaking into the Leeds first team and not even the pain of a dislocated shoulder, which curtailed his involvement in last night’s final to just 20 minutes, could wipe the smile from his face.
“It’s brilliant to win it and see everyone so happy,” he said. “I’m over the moon. I can’t really believe it to be honest. It will take a few days to sink in.
“It’s so rewarding after such a long hard year and more than I could have dreamed of.
“It was a really tough decision (not to go to Australia) but I had to hang around and play with these blokes and I’m glad I made it.”