Sutcliffe’s maturity has Leeds confident for future

Liam Sutcliffe runs in for a try against St Helens on Friday. Picture: Steve Riding.

Liam Sutcliffe runs in for a try against St Helens on Friday. Picture: Steve Riding.

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In his player profile on the Leeds Rhinos website, young stand-off Liam Sutcliffe names the club’s record-breaking captain Kevin Sinfield as his sporting hero.

Everyone knows why: Sinfield has achieved almost everything there is to achieve in the game during an illustrious career with Leeds that saw him rated the world’s best player in 2012.

It is ironic, then, or perhaps fitting, that Sutcliffe is increasingly looking like the man who will eventually step into the legend’s boots when the 34-year-old switches over to Yorkshire Carnegie at the end of this season.

Indeed, it is happening already. Sinfield, recently back from injury, was named on the bench for Friday’s crucial game at champions St Helens, the first time that has occurred at club level since 2003, with Sutcliffe preferred in the starting role at No 6.

He is still just 20 years old but, in such a pivotal position, plays with a maturity that belies his tender age, illustrated once more as the Super League leaders duly pulled Saints apart with a thrilling first-half performance on the way to a stunning 41-16 success.

Is it strange, then, that he is now taking the role of the man he holds in such high esteem?

“You could say that as Kev is obviously an unreal player and the stuff he has done in his time at Leeds is absolutely crazy,” Sutcliffe told The Yorkshire Post, ahead of Friday’s next assignment with Warrington Wolves.

“If I can keep my place in the team and achieve half the things he has I’m pretty sure I’ll be really happy with my career.

“It was a massive boost that Brian (McDermott) picked me.

“It just shows he has every confidence in me to keep me in the team.

“I’m not too sure, to be honest, (if it was a surprise). I couldn’t really tell you. I just have to train hard during the week, hope for the best that I’m picked in the team and, luckily, I got the nod.

“Hopefully, I can play a few more games now and keep trying to play well.”

The victory, in which the stylish Sutcliffe scored his third try of the year and wonderfully created another two, will have been welcomed by McDermott as the coach looks to evolve the ‘Golden Generation’ squad that lifted six Super League titles.

Despite veteran forwards Kylie Leuluai and Jamie Jones-Buchanan being injured along with England wingers Ryan Hall and Tom Briscoe, he was still able to afford to leave Sinfield on the bench and watch as Sutcliffe, 19-year-old winger Ash Handley – who scored a hat-trick – and the ever-improving Stevie Ward took control.

Leeds-born Sutcliffe added: “It’s really good and obviously now it’s maybe starting to show that when there’s a few experienced heads missing you can turn to these types of young ones.

“That’s especially so with Stevie Ward, who I think has been unreal this year; I can’t believe how good he’s been.

“Hopefully, us young ones can keep trying to play well and helping the team win.

“That Saints first half was possibly as good as we’d played for a while, but we’d worked all week on having a big start.

“We knew the last few times we’d played Saints they’d always come out and had a strong start against us so we wanted to match them. Warrington will be another test on Friday. It’s always a massive game against them and they are the only side to beat us so far.”

Reports Down Under suggest Leeds are closing in on a deal for current England No6 Gareth Widdop, the 26-year-old who hails from Halifax but has made his career in the NRL with Melbourne Storm and now 
St George-Illawarra since emigrating there as a teenager.

Sutcliffe knows he still has some work to do to make the jersey his own.

“It is only early days – I’ve only played a few games – and if they do decide to bring someone in then it’s just a challenge for places,” he said, though 21 tries in 52 games since debuting in 2013 gives a clearer picture of how well he has adjusted to senior football.

“It’s not going to make me train any less next year if they do bring someone in.

“Obviously I’ll be trying hard to get a regular starting spot.

“Kev’s not said anything to me about the long term, but he’s always good with advice anyway –him, Mags (Danny McGuire) and Rob (Burrow) – so it’s just normal stuff you talk about as friends and he’s still been really good.

“I’ve fitted in, but that’s down to the playing group and coaches we’ve got as they are very welcoming; you don’t ever feel like you’re not a part of the team.”

With Sinfield set for his 500th Leeds game on Friday, it seems his talented protégé could be part of this transforming team for some time to come, too.

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