McDermott set for Sinfield farewell
Leeds head coach Brian McDermott admits captain Kevin Sinfield "will leave a significant hole", but he believes the club is in good shape ahead of his departure to rugby union.
The 34-year-old, who led England to the semi-finals of the 2013 World Cup, announced on Tuesday that he will be leaving the Rhinos at the end of his 19th season to join sister club Yorkshire Carnegie.
Sinfield will follow in the footsteps of the likes of Wigan greats Jason Robinson and Andy Farrell - and more recently Bath's big-money signing Sam Burgess - when he crosses codes to begin his 18-month contract with Carnegie in November.
The Oldham-born stand-off has won almost everything on offer in rugby league, boasting a CV which includes captaining the Rhinos to six Super League titles, three World Club Challenges and one Challenge Cup success.
And Sinfield will be remembered as one of the true greats of the game, according to McDermott.
When asked to put Sinfield's career into words, McDermott said: "Unparalleled, inspirational, a player to be envied.
"He's been in so many finals, led from the front and been more successful than most other players that have ever played the game.
"In this current landscape of a salary cap era, he's the most successful captain of the most successful team in Super League. They're things you don't rattle off easily.
"This is a big moment, not only in Kevin's career but in the club's history. Their most successful captain is retiring at the end of the year, and that's not lost on anybody."
Leeds head into the Easter period top of Super League but now must face up to losing another hugely inspirational player.
Eight-time Grand Final winner Jamie Peacock last week revealed he will take up a management role at Hull KR at the end of this season, while fellow veteran prop Kylie Leuluai is also in his last year.
Leeds have increasingly given opportunities to youngsters in recent seasons, the likes of Brad Singleton and Liam Sutcliffe in particular, and McDermott is confident those players will step up.
"Kevin will leave a significant hole and it is something we'll have to manage," he said.
"We've been planning for this type of scenario for a number of years. We probably didn't expect it to come this season but once you get over the initial surprise and shock, it's something we're in good shape for.
"The Rhinos have been known for blooding youngsters for a number of years, but we've been specifically blooding juniors, in particular Liam Sutcliffe, for this type of day.
"It's a hole, it certainly is a hole, but it's something we feel we're in healthy shape to handle.
"This is part of a transition that's going to happen. Jamie Peacock made his announcement last week and now Sinfield this week, with Kylie (Leuluai) also leaving - all three of them are very influential and dynamic people in our squad, and when they leave the group will change. That's something we're planning for and want to manage well."
An Old Trafford Grand Final would be the perfect send-off for the three in the eyes of Rhinos fans, but McDermott insisted their impending departures have not given the squad added motivation.
"We're not doing it for Kev, JP or Kylie, we're doing it because it's the right thing to do," he added.
"It makes for a fantastic story at the end of the year and we'd like that to happen, but the squad comes first.
"Those three just want the team to win, and if they can be part of that team that makes a fairytale ending."
Sinfield is currently sidelined by a hamstring problem, although he could return either against Castleford on Good Friday or Wakefield next Monday.
Sutcliffe has stepped into his half-back position while Danny McGuire has taken over the captaincy, a role McDermott suggested may be his on a full-time basis when Sinfield ends his long association with the Rhinos.
"When we do make that decision, we'll have covered off a few areas," he continued.
"It's not just about on the field; Kevin has been much more than just an on-field captain and has been the leader of the club for such a long time.
"We may go through a couple of short-term captains before we find another long-term one."