Sinfield awaiting role call

Leeds forward is ready to prove his versatility again for Great Britain's rugby league side
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The Independent Online

The voyage into the unknown continues for Kevin Sinfield on Saturday, with the Leeds player wondering just what sort of new role he will have to master this time.

If Great Britain's success in the first Test at Huddersfield on Sunday was based on David Waite's determination to experiment, then Sinfield is the guinea pig.

For the record, Sinfield, a loose forward or occasional stand-off for his club, was selected at hooker, where he had played once in his career. Even that, it turns out, would have been a role for which he was comparatively well prepared: he started the match at scrum-half, a position in which he had played five minutes in this year's County match.

If you had suggested Seinfeld rather than Sinfield for the job it would hardly have been a more surprisingly story line.

Sinfield, who finished the match in the slightly more familiar territory of the second row, said: "I got an inkling of what David was planning on the Wednesday or Thursday.''

Like most aspects of Britain's game plan, it worked. But where will Sinfield be at Bolton this weekend? Prop? Wing? Water carrier?

"I haven't got a clue,'' he says. "I just know I really enjoyed it in the first Test. I never thought that it wasn't fair being asked to play out of position. I just wanted to play and one thing I feel I've got in my favour is utility value. The way they originally announced the team took a lot of pressure off me, with most of the press chasing Richard Horne. David looked after me there.''

However many false trails may be laid a young player – Sinfield is still only 21 – has to look after himself when he is thrown in against the likes of Andrew Johns and Brad Fittler.

"Andrew Johns is the best player in the world,'' he says, with the respect he failed to show on Sunday. "I was quite pleased with my game. Mind you, there wasn't a player in the side who had a bad game.''

Sinfield is a product of the same junior rugby league scene in Oldham as Iestyn Harris and Sunday's Man of the Match, Paul Sculthorpe, but he has been at Leeds for five years and made his first-team debut when he was 16.

As an England schoolboys captain, he was marked out early for great things, but doubts started to creep in last season over whether he would achieve them in his preferred position of the back row. One thankless task he inherited, with mixed results, was taking over from Harris at stand-off.

Next season, his objective is clear. He is determined to re-establish himself as the first choice loose forward at Headingley, despite competition from the newly-signed Adrian Vowles. Failing that, there is always stand-off, although Leeds have signed another Australian, Ben Walker, with that role in mind.

There is such a thing as being too versatile for your own good and Sinfield is wary of being typecast as a utility player at club level.

In representative rugby, though, it is slightly different: "I want to play loose forward,'' he admits, "but I've got Andy Farrell and Paul Sculthorpe ahead of me. They are two outstanding players and you know realistically that you're not going to push them out.''

He has an ambition, however, one he keeps largely to himself, and that is to succeed Farrell, five years his senior as Great Britain's regular loose forward.

"For the next couple of years in rep football, I'm happy to play anywhere I'm put, but eventually I'd love nothing more than to have the No 13.''

In the meantime, Sinfield is concentrating on learning as much from Farrell and the other senior members of the squad as he can.

"Andy is a terrific leader and the older players like him know what it's like after winning one Test in 1994 and 1997. They've made it clear that we haven't achieved anything yet.''

With Farrell and Sculthorpe doing on-field interviews, it was another of Britain's established players who brought the team into a huddle after the victory at the McAlpine Stadium, to hammer that point home.

"It was Chris Joynt who took the lead in that. He spoke very well – because he's been in this position twice in his career.''

He was preaching to the converted in Sinfield, in whom there is much of the same precocious maturity that Farrell and Sculthorpe showed at his age. There were no premature celebrations for the Sinfield family, who were at Huddersfield in large numbers.

"I was absolutely knackered,'' he said, hoping to be again this weekend. What he does not know is which job will exhaust him this time. David Waite might give him a clue some time between now and Saturday night.

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