Sinfield takes the plaudits
The name of Kevin Sinfield was on everyone's lips as the Leeds captain inspired his side to a sixth Super League title in nine years at Old Trafford on Saturday night.
- Related Content
The 32-year-old produced a man-of-the-match performance in a 26-18 success over Warrington, scoring a try and five goals despite being knocked out cold by the head of Michael Monaghan.
The injury clearly did not set him back too much, though, as he dusted himself down on his 78th successive appearance to climb the podium and lift another trophy, before returning to a shower of compliments from coaches past and present.
"To borrow a line from (Leeds president) Harry Jepson, he's not the best six Leeds have had and he's not the best 13 they've had, but he's by a long way the best captain they've had," said Leeds' now dual title-winning boss Brian McDermott.
Touching on the Rhinos' 48-24 final-round loss to 12-man Huddersfield, which appeared to rule them out of retaining a title they also won from fifth a year ago, McDermott added: "You don't find out the quality of people until times are tough. It's easy when you have the momentum and back-to-back wins.
"But when you're getting murdered at Huddersfield in your final game before the play-offs, and your captain knocks on your door to give you some advice... He holds it together in tough times."
Those inside rugby league have long since acknowledged Sinfield's brilliance, but those from other fields are now starting to notice.
Wayne Rooney took to Twitter to call his performance "a joke", such was its quality, while television presenter Clare Balding admitted to being "choked up" by him.
Warrington coach Tony Smith is all too aware of Sinfield. The Australian coached Leeds to the first two of their six titles, with the Oldham-born player in the armband for both of them.
"He's a terrific player and one of the best club players I have seen over here," said Smith, whose side failed to do the double having beaten Leeds to the Challenge Cup in August.
"He contributes in a massive way, not just in his performances on the field but off it. He's a steady thinker and steady hand, he does everything right and he is a real inspiration. I'm proud to have been associated with him and to have coached him."
The man himself preferred to direct attention away from himself, short of admitting he was knocked out but was "fine".
It was his normally unheralded try-scoring which got Leeds going, though, getting them back on terms with an opportunist effort.
His goalkicking remained as steadfast as ever - he has landed 21 from as many attempts during a play-off series that has seen back-to-back wins over Wakefield (eighth place), Catalan (fourth), Wigan (first) and Warrington (second).
"It gets better to win these," Sinfield added.
"The first one was special, but for us to come from fifth again, it's an incredible night. The last month has been awesome. The year has been tough, we talked about not being happy to be fifth, but we showed quality and desire.
"The will to win isn't just the players and the coaches, it's the whole club. Myself and Mac spoke after the Huddersfield game when they had a man sent off and put nearly 50 points on us. That was the turning point."
After last year's win over St Helens, Sinfield and McDermott turned on the press who had written them off as a team which was over the hill.
They were more restrained tonight, with the former humbly admitting that he feels his side's final league placing suggests they are still not the finished article.
"The table doesn't lie, we were fifth and there are some great squads out there," he said, having won 27 of the 33 votes cast for the Harry Sunderland trophy.
"Squad-wise we could be better, our team is very, very good but we need to take a leaf out of Warrington's book and the way they rotate players."
Having been considered as many people's favourites for the title ever since the opening game back in February, Warrington found the last hurdle the hardest to climb.
They scored three tries through Richie Myler, Joel Monaghan and Ryan Atkins, but were ultimately undone by the brilliance of Sinfield.
"It was a tough game, a hard game and one that got away from us," Smith added.
"We can be pleased with our efforts, the game ebbed and flowed, we needed to take a hold of it and up the ante. We needed to improve our kicking game and it looked like we were trying not to lose rather than to win."