Kevin Sinfield: Why he is Super League's best kicker

Kevin Sinfield

As England step up their preparations for this year's World Cup I had the privilege of spending an afternoon learning the tricks of the trade from their captain back where it all began.

It is arguably the biggest year rugby league has ever had, something of which Kevin Sinfield is acutely aware.

I met Sinfield at Waterhead ARLFC, the Oldham club where he first picked up a rugby ball as a tearful seven-year-old after elder brother Ian left him alone to go and play for the Under-11s, to hear more about what drives the man that England coach Steve McNamara describes as the world's best prepared player and find out the secrets behind his metronomic kicking.

Kevin Sinfield prepares to kick
"I use a telescopic tee with a bar in the middle which I use as my guide. I line it up pointed straight through the posts"

His own son was busy playing with the son of Leeds prop Kylie Leuluai, meticulously drilling the rugby ball across the park as has become his father's trademark.

Sinfield's kicking is something of a phenomenon. He has the best kicking percentage of all regular kickers in Super League and went through the entire play-off series last year without missing one. The run finally ended this season after 41 in a row, to leave Liam Finn's record intact.

When Sinfield inherited the kicking tee from Ben Walker at Leeds in 2002 he looked anything but a natural kicker. But like David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo with free-kicks, he invested time to perfect the art, staying behind on his own after training just to kick the same balls again and again.

Even now when not on the training pitch, he tells me he does kicking practice mentally, visualising a position, and angle, and going through the same process as he would in a game. He calls it his kicking OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder).

The style itself is bizarre and unique. Sinfield keeps the angle acute, bringing the ball back rarely beyond the 20-metre line, even with the most acute angled conversions following tries scored in the corner.

His run-up is side on to the kicking tee, and he kicks the ball with his eyes planted on the ground rather than the posts.

He delivers a fascinating run through the routine, putting down a blue and amber tee with "Sinny" scribbled in marker pen - this is now used by his son. He takes his own particular kicking tee with him home and away.

"I use a telescopic tee with a bar in the middle which I use as my guide. I line it up pointed straight through the posts," he explained.

"I see the ball like a bullet. It has four panels. If you look at the end it is like a cross. So it is like looking down the barrel of a gun. I try and use that and use the lines on the ball as well as the line in the middle of the tee.

"For me I place my middle finger on the valve of the ball. You don't need to, that's just part of my OCD. I line the seam of the ball up straight through the middle of the ball, knowing full well if I hit the bullet in the right spot it's going to go straight.

"You can have any run-up you want. Things to remember are relax, secondly keep your head down, thirdly follow through. With my follow-through I try to touch my left hand with my right foot.

"I know if I hit the right spot, with the right follow-through, the ball will go straight and I don't have to look to see where it's going."

The overwhelming urge is to pull the head straight up to watch the kick and see where the ball is going, but Sinfield never looks.

His England and Leeds team-mate Jamie Jones-Buchanan says through meticulous preparation and dedication, Sinfield has effectively been a full-time professional since he was 13.

"He has everything covered form how he eats, when he sleeps, his kit - everything is always the same," he admitted.

Sinfield says this year's World Cup is a chance to create history and represents his final chance of World Cup success.

"It's been that long since England really accomplished anything, you have to say 'why not this year?'" he asks.

And Jones-Buchanan reckons it may well be "destiny" for Sinfield to cap his career by lifting the World Cup for England on home soil.

The BBC will broadcast live TV and radio coverage of all England's group games, plus a quarter-final, a semi-final and the final of the tournament which starts on 26 October.

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