Leeds and England captain Kevin Sinfield has called time on his international career with immediate effect.

The Oldham-born loose forward, who will turn 34 later this month, has won 26 England caps and 14 Great Britain caps, and appeared in the last three World Cups.

He admitted the decision to retire ahead of this season's Four Nations in Australia and New Zealand, had been a wrench.

"This is a decision I have taken a great deal of time over and it has been the toughest of my professional career," he said.

"I have always loved playing for my country, whether for England or Great Britain, and it has been a privilege and honour to lead my country for the last two seasons.

"What has made the process easier is the knowledge that the environment Steve McNamara has created will continue the progress we have made in the last few seasons."

Sinfield, who succeeded Jamie Peacock as England skipper in October 2012, said his decision had been made in order to prolong his club career at the highest level.

"Following the World Cup, I was keen to continue. However, I want to be able to perform at the highest possible level whenever I take the field," he said on www.therhinos.co.uk.

"I believe that by taking this decision, it will enable me to do that for the Rhinos for the remainder of my career.

"I will cherish my memories of international rugby. They have helped shape me into the player I am today and it has always been special to pull on the England or Great Britain shirt."

Sinfield's last appearance for his country was the thrilling 20-18 defeat to New Zealand in the World Cup semi-final at Wembley last November.

His announcement leaves England coach Steve McNamara with a decision to make on who will lead England Down Under, for games against Samoa, Australia and New Zealand.

McNamara was quick to pay tribute to Sinfield's "exemplary" contribution to the national cause.

"Kevin is the ultimate rugby league professional and it has been a privilege to work with him in the last few years, when his attitude, application and enthusiasm has rubbed off on everybody," he said. "His contribution and commitment to the England programme has been exemplary.

"I know that he has not taken this decision lightly and, having spoken to him at length in the last few days, I fully understand his reasons for calling time on his international career.

"Kevin's achievements with Leeds Rhinos are well documented and this decision will allow him to focus fully on extending his record as the club's most successful captain."

Sinfield has captained the Rhinos to six Grand Final victories and three World Club Challenge triumphs, and last month led the team to a first Challenge Cup final win in 15 years.