IT was 12 months ago tomorrow that Adam Cuthbertson first stepped out in Leeds Rhinos colours for a friendly fixture on, of all days, Boxing Day, not quite sure what he was really letting himself in for.
No one, not even the Australian prop himself in his wildest dreams, could imagine the amount of success he or the club would have from thereon in. The term ‘instant hit’ does not do him justice.
Leeds, of course, went on to win a first-ever treble in 2015 and Cuthbertson, the little-known forward brought in from Newcastle Knights, was so influential along the way that he was shortlisted for the prestigious Steve Prescott Man of Steel award as Super League’s finest player.
However, for all he eventually ended up lifting three trophies in what was a remarkable debut year for any new signing, let alone an overseas recruit adjusting after such a major transition, what did he think about that weird experience of initially playing Wakefield Trinity Wildcats the morning after Christmas?
“For someone like myself, who had only ever played in the NRL, it was all a bit strange,” Cuthbertson told The Yorkshire Post with a knowing laugh.
“Normally I’d be well into my holidays by that point and probably recovering after drinking way too much on Christmas Day.
“I’d be looking to freshen up, maybe on the beach, but last year I must admit, I felt nervous going into that game against Wakefield.
“The conditions were pretty poor. Players were slipping in the warm-up, twisting their knees and getting injured before we even started so I was thinking ‘What have I got myself into here!?’
“But, having said that, I didn’t have many family over at that point so it was good in a way as it gave me something to do over that period.
“It’s something I’d never done before, it was a great experience and a pleasure in the end as it got me out there with Leeds for the first time experiencing that Headingley atmosphere.
“We actually won the Boxing Day Festive Challenge as well – and seemed to win everything else from there.”
They did indeed and a significant reason for that was the new attacking weapon Cuthbertson – the 30-year-old smashed the Super League record for offloads in a season – brought to the West Yorkshire side that already had such dynamic threats as England stars Kallum Watkins, Ryan Hall and eventual Man of Steel winner Zak Hardaker.
Defences simply did not know how to deal with this burly opponent who looked like a typical front-row but had all the skills and trickery of a dynamic half-back.
“I don’t even know what I’m doing myself half the time so good luck to the opposition!” he insisted, self-depractingly.
“It is an exciting game we play at Leeds, though, isn’t it?
“It’s like the original brand of rugby league how people played years ago.
“There’s a lot more pressure come into the game now and with the wrestling tactic unfortunately teams can slow it all down so it is really refreshing that we can play this other way.
“There’s so much talent in this Leeds side that it does help me do what I do.
“But credit to the coaching staff, too; if they don’t have your back you cannot display that sort of football.
“Super League is a lot less structured than the NRL so that does allow me to offload more but it’s also down to the coaches and team I play with.”
Cuthbertson still can’t quite comprehend just how much glory he did enjoy in 2015 – winning the Challenge Cup final at Wembley, a Grand Final at Old Trafford and the League Leaders’ Shield, too.
“The games we got to play in, the venues we visited, the crowds we saw were all just so hard to believe,” he added, having previously won just one trophy in his entire career, the World Club Challenge ironically against Leeds with Manly Sea Eagles in 2009.
“It’s hard to believe I could win one trophy in my first year here let alone two or three.
“But it’s so exciting and I’ve got a taste for it now.
“The passion and hunger to win more just grows stronger; it doesn’t burn off.
“We’re quite lucky this year (2016) as well; there’s a few boys, and the team as a whole, that really wants to prove itself with the so-called ‘Big Three’ having left at the end of last season.
“We don’t want people saying we’re not as good without them.”
The aforementioned triumvirate are, of course, Kevin Sinfield, Jamie Peacock and Kylie Leuluai, two former England captains – one who has led Leeds to seven league titles – and the club’s most successful overseas signing ever.
Cuthbertson, who will feature tomorrow morning as his fellow countrymen Beau Falloon and Keith Galloway make their own Rhinos debuts against Wakefield Trinity Wildcats, is confident that Leeds are in good hands with youngsters Liam Sutcliffe and Stevie Ward ready to step up to help fill those considerable voids.
“Those two boys are just great players,” he said.
“Stevie had an outstanding season before unfortunately getting injured in that last round at Huddersfield.
“But he’s only going to get bigger and better when he does come back from that. He’s a great talent.
“Sutty did the same getting injured but midway through the year.
“He’d really shown what he could do, though, by that point and next season he’ll be given that chance to go lead this team from half-back and prove to everyone he can take over that (Sinfield) role. It’s exciting times.”
Perhaps the only negative in Cuthbertson’s own annus mirabilis was his inability to earn selection for England.
Granted, that sounds preposterous; he was born in Sydney, sounds just like anyone who grew up around him with Manly’s beaches as a backdrop to their childhood, and played nine years in the NRL.
However, Cuthbertson’s father is from Manchester so he is eligible to play for England.
The former St George Illawarra player made it known he would like to represent them and national coach Steve McNamara did have conversations with him about the prospect, inviting the player along to the squad’s mid-season gathering in May.
When Cuthbertson’s scintillating form only improved further after that meeting, and Leeds rounded off the campaign in such style. most people assumed he would be named in the squad to face New Zealand in a three-match Test series here in November.
For all England are not short of props, they do not really possess someone of Cuthbertson’s unusual but highly effective skill-set in that position.
Yet there was no follow-up from McNamara.
“He got in touch more or less halfway through the year,” explained the player, who also played for Cronulla in Sydney but only ever earned representative honours at New South Wales City Origin level.
“But I never heard from him again.
“He’s got his plans and he can justify his reasons – they won the series – but I can only do what I can do.
“It’s one of those things. If I’d have been picked it’d have been an honour to play for England and I’d have done all I could for the team.
“I’ve not been given anything to work on or told to do anything; I’ve not spoken to him.
“I’d still love to play for England and I would do if I got the chance – I’m not a bitter person – but that call has to come and I’m not going to hold my breath.”
Instead, it looks like it could be just Super League crowds left breathless by the man’s skills, which remains good news for Leeds.