Kevin Sinfield: Leeds Rhinos captain 'fresh' for new campaign
Leeds Rhinos captain Kevin Sinfield says his international retirement has given him a feeling of "freshness" for the forthcoming Super League season.
The 34-year-old ended his England career in September last year, ruling himself out of the Four Nations tournament in the autumn.
Instead, the Oldham-born half-back was able to recuperate after helping Leeds to Challenge Cup success in 2014.
"Freshness is the word I'd use," Sinfield told BBC Sport.
"Everybody throughout Super League will tell you they're in the best shape of their life and I could stand here and tell you that myself.
"But I won't - freshness is what I'd say. Both physically and mentally I feel fresh and ready to go."
Sinfield bowed out of international competition following England's World Cup semi-final defeat by New Zealand at Wembley in 2013 with 26 caps, to add to 14 appearances for Great Britain.
Leeds lifted the Challenge Cup for the first time since 1999, but lost early in the Super League play-offs to Catalans Dragons at Headingley.
That defeat was the last appearance in a Rhinos shirt for Ryan Bailey, whose 12-year professional career with the club ended when he joined Hull Kingston Rovers.
Fellow prop forward Ian Kirke also moved on, joining Wakefield Trinity, while Newcastle Knights back-rower Adam Cuthbertson is the club's only new signing.
Head coach Brian McDermott has shunned large-scale recruitment in favour of promoting younger talents such as Josh Walters, Liam Sutcliffe and Brad Singleton.
"It's sad to see people go. Adam has been awesome during preseason but I feel our young lads are ready," Sinfield added.
"A lot of have got two or three seasons of Super League experience under their belts, are ready for a chance and the competition is as good as I've seen it.
"It bodes well, because in the past when we've won things, the competition has been very good.
"This club is built on producing and promoting our own players and adding to that some of the best in the world.
"I look around the game and I know there are some very good squads, but arguably ours is right up there with them."
Sinfield goes into his 20th season with the Rhinos with Super League entering a new era of restructuring. A slimmed-down top tier of 12 clubs will battle for a place in the top eight, and then the privilege of making a four-team play-off series.
The decision is a poignant one for the Rhinos, who became the first club to win the Grand Final from as low as fifth place in 2011 and repeated the feat in 2012.
However, Sinfield accepts such a feat masked a disappointing finish.
"Just because we finished fifth in those two years we won the Grand Final, by no means do I think that's where a club like ours should be," Sinfield added.
"We should be challenging for those top spots and every bit of silverware out there and unfortunately we haven't quite got that in the last few years.
"If we're not in that top four, that's it, so we realise we've got to get off to a decent start and make sure we're in that four because it would be great to be back at Old Trafford."