EXCLUSIVE: Kevin Sinfield on Leeds Marathon finish with Rob Burrow (2023)

As this is Kevin Sinfield, the first surprise is that he has travelled the 15 miles from his home by car and not on foot.

Perhaps he was saving himself for our interview given he greets Mail Sport at Manchester's Lowry Hotel and says with a straight face: 'Have you brought your running kit? There are some good routes round here.'

Sinfield, of course, knows all about those. This is the city where, six months ago, he completed his Herculean challenge of running seven ultra-marathons in seven days, receiving a rousing standing ovation as he finished at Old Trafford.

The 42-year-old describes that moment, when he walked out on the pitch at half-time of the Rugby League World Cup final, as an 'intensely emotional occasion' and he must have thought it could never be topped. But then came last Sunday at his old home of Headingley.

Ever since his great mate Rob Burrow was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 2019 and he completed his first charity challenge for him a year later, Sinfield set out to launch a mass-participation event in his honour.

Kevin Sinfield has opened up on his very emotional finish to the Leeds Marathon on Sunday

Sinfield was among 12,000 runners to complete the inaugural Rob Burrow Leeds Marathon

It will forever be remembered for the moving moment when he carried Burrow across the line

His dream became a reality last weekend when more than 12,000 runners took part in the inaugural Rob Burrow Leeds Marathon — and it will forever be remembered for one moving moment.

Sinfield had pushed Burrow round the 26.2-mile course in his wheelchair but stopped a few yards short of the finish.

He then unstrapped his former Leeds Rhinos team-mate, lifted him out of his chair, carried him over the line and kissed him on the cheek, an act of friendship which captured the hearts of not just the crowd but the nation.

'It was one of the most special days of my life,' reflects Sinfield. 'Last year, I was able to push Rob around the Leeds 10k and that set the goal for the marathon. We had spoken about crossing the line together and that's where the idea of carrying him over came from.

'We speak nearly every day by text and I know he loved the whole experience. It was an unforgettable occasion with so many people out on the streets the whole way round. It was made extra special because Rob was able to see for himself all the love there is for him. We can't wait to do it all again next year.'

Before then, though, Sinfield has something else up his sleeve. He previously claimed that last year's 'Ultra 7 in 7' would be the last in a trilogy of fundraising feats, following his epic 101-mile, 24-hour run from Leicester to Leeds in 2021, and a mere seven marathons in seven days 12 months earlier.

However, he also caveated that by stating the fourth Rocky was his favourite film. And Sinfield now has news. 'Rocky IV is certainly on the agenda,' reveals the England rugby union defence coach. 'I want to go again because why would you not want to do something that only has positive things that come from it?

'I know what it will be, what I don't quite know yet is where. It won't go any bigger than what we've done. I think a week is the perfect window.

Sinfield spoke exclusively to Mail Sport's David Coverdale at the Lowry Hotel in Manchester

The marathon was a day which the 42-year-old called 'one of the most special days of my life'

'I understand it's a big year with the World Cup and my focus needs to be on that.

'But I do my best thinking and planning when I'm running. In many ways, it helps my coaching. The irony in this is I don't particularly enjoy running. But I know it makes me a better person.'

And there are few better people around than Sinfield, whose runs have already raised more than £8million for MND charities, giving hope to thousands of fighters of the terminal disease.

He was nicknamed 'Sir Kev' by Rhinos fans and his extraordinary endeavours have led to calls — including from Burrow's dad Geoff — for him to be officially knighted.

'I feel quite embarrassed about people saying that,' adds Sinfield. 'I haven't done any of it for any reward. The whole thing is massively humbling, but I am just trying to be a better mate.'

Sinfield revealed Burrow (left) coaxed him into writing his new autobiography 'The Extra Mile'

Sinfield describes Burrow as a 'reluctant hero', but the same could be said about him. He even had to be coaxed into writing his new autobiography.

'It was Rob,' explains Sinfield. 'I'd gone to see him one day and he said, 'I think you need to do a book'. I was pretty dismissive of it. I'd never wanted to do one. But he said, 'I've already set a meeting up for you with the person who helped with mine — and she is going to call you this afternoon!'.'

Burrow, it transpires, also inspired Sinfield's career change in the summer of 2021, when he quit rugby league — he was the Rhinos' director of rugby — to move into rugby union as defence coach of Leicester Tigers.

'I never wanted to coach,' he admits. 'It was a phone call out of the blue and if it hadn't been for Rob's plight and how Rob had inspired me, I might not have said yes to that call.

'The last couple of years have shown me what I need to do with my life and I want to help people. If I could, I would go and train to be a doctor in A&E. I would be frontline and I would be fixing people up. Heart attacks, people coming in from car crashes, the initial trauma bit.

'It is something I have looked at over the last couple of years. If there was a three-year degree course, I'd go and do it. But it's not an option so how do I best help people now? My skillset is rugby and coaching gives me a chance to help people in the best way I know how.'

And yet Sinfield's coaching career was almost over before it really began. In his book, he reveals that three days into his Leicester role, he called the club's then head coach Steve Borthwick to tell him he was not coming back.

He writes: 'I felt so exposed, thought I wasn't capable of doing the job, decided it was too much. I liked watching rugby union but didn't fully understand it.'

He quit rugby league in 2021 to move into rugby union as defence coach forLeicester Tigers

He then followed former Tigers chief Steve Borthwick (left) to England to take up the same role

Sinfield admitted the 2023 Six Nations, which saw England lose 53-10 to France, was 'bruising'

It is a frank admission from a man now in one of the most senior roles in the sport in the country. But Sinfield says: 'There is a message in there.

'It's not easy when you start something new, you have to battle sometimes and give things time. I'm so glad I got the chance to fight and come through. I'd have regretted it for the rest of my life if I'd left after three days.'

Before his time with the Tigers, where he went on to win the Premiership title last season, Sinfield's only experience of union was one year playing for Yorkshire Carnegie — now Leeds Tykes — after retiring from league.

However, he reveals he also had the chance to switch codes much earlier in his career, holding talks with then England coach Clive Woodward in 2002.

'I'm embarrassed when people say I should be knighted. I haven't done it for reward. I'm just trying to be a better mate'

'It was close,' he says. 'At that time, Jason Robinson had just gone across. I was out of contract and it was a serious conversation. I had a really good meeting with Clive. My conversation was never about 2003, it was always about the next World Cup.

'But at that point, we hadn't won anything at Leeds. I don't have any regrets. If I'd gone down that path, we possibly wouldn't be sitting here today talking about what we are talking about.'

Sinfield went on to captain the Rhinos to seven Super League titles and is the highest points-scorer in the competition's history. But although he passed up the chance to play for England's rugby union side in a World Cup, he is about to coach them in one.

An honest Sinfield admits his imposter syndrome again kicked in when Borthwick, who succeeded Eddie Jones as England head coach, invited him to be part of his backroom team at Twickenham last December.'You ask yourself, 'Am I good enough to do it?',' says Sinfield. 'You go back to those early days at Leicester.'

Sinfield also revealed there is another mind-boggling charity fundraising feat in the offing

Burrow was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 2019 with millions raised since then

And his early days with England have not been easy. Borthwick's men finished fourth in the Six Nations, conceding a record number of tries and suffering a 53-10 hammering at home to France. 'It was bruising,' admits Sinfield. 'It had been a while since I'd had 50 put on me but it always feels the same.

'In many ways, that shows me I'm probably in the right place because if it didn't hurt like it did as a player then I was the wrong guy for the job. It showed us how much we've got to do. It showed us what the gap is.

'But I think we will be better for it. It is ugly and not nice, but we have learned a lot of lessons. We understand what we have got to do. We understand the magnitude of it. We are realistic about how hard we have to work. It's a hell of a challenge, but we are looking forward to it.'

Sinfield, as we know by now, likes a challenge. The World Cup in France is less than four months away and England go in to the tournament as only fifth favourites.

But Sinfield adds: 'I am quite happy for people to write us off. I've always enjoyed being an underdog.When you are a part of team and you come together and have a purpose, then anything is possible.'Sinfield knows that better than anyone.

The Extra Mile by Kevin Sinfield is published by Century (£20 hardback, £13 audiobook and £9.99 ebook).

Hear Sinfield in conversation in Manchester on May 23, York on May 24 and London on May 30. Tickets at waterstones.com/events.


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