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Kevin Sinfield game and want to play well, first and foremost. But there is so much at stake this year and I think that anybody who is eligible to play for England is going to raise his game in the [Super League] competition, which is why I think standards will improve,” he predicts.

“It is a massive carrot dangling over every English qualified player - me included - so certainly selection and what’s at stake at the end of the year is a huge motivator for everybody. Of course, I want to do well for Leeds and I want them to be really successful, but at the back of your mind I know what the World Cups are about. I’ve been fortunate enough to play in the last two albeit unsuccessful ones, and ones that I haven’t particularly enjoyed because I have not played that well or been left out of teams and it hadn’t gone to plan.

“I think that the pool of players now available for England is as good as I have ever seen, and it is as big as I have ever seen. The talent is certainly there and I think because that carrot is dangling now for every single player, the competition in this country is gonna go from strength to strength. Whether I am involved or not, Steve will have a fantastic squad to pick from, but that challenge for me is the ultimate goal.

“Since September it has been the best part of my career. It just seems to get better and better. Let’s hope 2013 can follow because I know what a big year it is for rugby league.”

He and Leeds get an early crack at the Aussies when Melbourne come over next month for the World Club Challenge.

“I’m really looking forward to it. We have had some tough tussles over the years. Thankfully in 2012 we were good enough to beat Manly at home. It’ll be the ultimate challenge for us as a team, as a group. We would have loved to have played the game out in Australia, to go to Melbourne but that wasn’t to be. Hopefully we can start the year off with a bang for English rugby.”

Arguably, the Golden Boot award has already done that, reigniting the intense rivalries between Pom and Aussie that had laid dormant over the close season. The

“We want to be better than the last couple of years... we don’t think fifth is good enough for a team like Leeds...”

NRL champion team includes two players short-listed for the Boot Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk. The Australian audience might just get a chance to see up close why Sinfield won it, and not an antipodean. Kevin, of course, shrugs off the negativity ...and perhaps stokes the flames a little.

“I don’t really know how to approach the criticism. I suppose with anything where people vote for it there is always difference of opinion and I understand that ...that’s part and parcel of awards I suppose.

“But like I say, I am very honoured to have won it. I know there was some outstanding competition and I am very surprised as well.

“So if the Australians don’t like it I can’t do much about that. What I can do is try to make them dislike it a bit more by making sure that our English teams are successful against them.”

Despite the praise and the honour of being voted the world’s best, Sinfield refuses to consider that he has ‘made it’.

“I very rarely look back. I feel that I have still got everything to achieve. I am sure I will when I am retired and I have grandkids and can tell them all about the good old days, but at this moment it is all about looking forward. It is a big year for rugby league, it’s a big year for Leeds and certainly for me individually as well.”

It all adds up to a year of great challenges - plus the extra pressure of a Masters in Sports Business, which he took on despite asking Jamie Jones Buchanan in 2008 (when he finished his first degree) to “shoot me if I start a degree again”.

Happy being busy, he says, but at his happiest on the sports sidelines...watching his children playing. “I would spend every minute of the day with them if I could. Ultimately my family comes first.”

That old rugby league stalwart Harry Jepson said last year that Sinfield wasn’t the best player in Leeds’ history, nor was he the best player in the team - but he was the best captain that Leeds have ever had. Watching him hold aloft that Super League trophy on six occasions, it would be hard to deny that he’s a player with qualities that go beyond being the biggest, the fastest and the most skilful.

And whatever the Australians think, many league lovers here and the Golden Boot judges believe that when it comes to Kevin Sinfield, the shoe truly fits.

England expects: Kevin Sinfield prepares to collect the ball against New Zealand in 2011 Four Nations at Hull’s KC Stadium

16 Forty-20 January 2013

SWPix.com

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