HE IS still just 21 but Liam Sutcliffe insists he is ready for the responsibility of not only replacing Leeds Rhinos legend Kevin Sinfield but now, temporarily at least, Danny McGuire, too.
The talented stand-off always knew he would be the man to take on Sinfield’s mantle in 2016 after the former England captain switched codes with Yorkshire Carnegie last October.
However, after scrum-half Danny McGuire, injured his knee in the club’s opening Super League game against Warrington Wolves, now facing two months on the sidelines, Sutcliffe has suddenly become even more pivotal for Brian McDermott’s side.
Given he himself faces only his second competitive game at Widnes Vikings tomorrow since returning from a knee reconstruction, it could be all a little too much for lesser characters.
But, in the 60 senior appearances he has made for his hometown club, the Leeds-born player has always shown maturity beyond his years and is undaunted by the prospect.
“It is a big responsibility,” said Sutcliffe.
“But I have been around this group of players for a few years now. Everybody helps out and gives advice, it is not just me on my own. There’s other experienced players around me, helping me so that’s really good.
“It is a massive blow for the team and for Danny as well, his injury. Obviously to get hurt in the first game of the year and then be out for a couple of months is really disappointing.
“It’s not good for him, but we have got to kick on.
“These things happen in a game and whoever Mac chooses to play in the halves – whether it is me, Jordan (Lilley) or Rob (Burrow) – hopefully we can do a good job and lead the team around.”
Burrow, 33, captains the side in McGuire’s absence and is likely to revert from hooker to his old scrum-half position with teenager Lilley playing at dummy-half.
Sutcliffe will be up against ex-England stand-off Kevin Brown, the former Huddersfield Giants star who is always so influential for the Widnes side he captains.
They won at Wakefield last week and return to their artificial surface tomorrow that has proven the downfall of so many.
“It is always fast on 3 or 4G pitches and Widnes are really good at home,” said Sutcliffe.
“Last year they beat us at their place and I remember that being a really tough game.
“We are expecting nothing less from them.
“They had a good win at Wakefield last weekend, but we have trained hard this week and hopefully we’ll put together a good performance.”
Champions Leeds lost the first game in the defence of their title when they slipped up 12-10 at home to Warrington.
With McGuire out and Australian hooker Beau Falloon again denied his debut due to a broken toe, McDermott has called up youngsters Ash Handley and Ashton Golding into his 19-man squad.
They will quickly look to get off the mark against Widnes especially given they have the World Club Challenge against North Queensland to contend with in just eight days’ time.