Sutcliffe’s switch to Bulls mutually beneficial

Liam Sutcliffe.
Liam Sutcliffe.
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HE has yet to even make his Bradford Bulls debut and, under the terms of his current loan, facing Leeds Rhinos is not even marked on the time frame.

Yet, inevitably perhaps, Liam Sutcliffe concedes the prospect has already crossed his mind.

The talented young Leeds stand-off will feature for Bradford at Hull FC tonight after their coach Francis Cummins used his vast connections at his former club to secure a timely one-month deal.

It assuages a sizeable problem caused by the loss of Lee Gaskell to injury and, as fall out from their ongoing financial issues, fellow playmaker Jarrod Sammut to Wakefield Trinity Wildcats.

As loan moves go, bringing in such a highly-rated player as Sutcliffe – still only 19 but who played like a 200-game veteran after arriving in Super League last year – is as good as they come.

But what has it been like for such an ardent Leeds fan pulling on the shirt of their fierce rivals?

“I never thought I would be in a Bradford jersey,” smiled the teenager who – for all his impact last season when injuries struck at Headingley – now, understandably, finds himself stuck behind a certain Kevin Sinfield and Danny McGuire.

“But I’d never not want to come here just because they are Leeds’ rivals.

“I wanted game time and this is a great club to come to.

“Rugby league is a family sport so if one club is struggling then teams are willing to help each other. After the initial month runs out though and it goes to week to week, the fifth game is against Leeds.

“Whether I’ll still be at Bradford then I’m not sure, but it would be a bit weird if I did play in that.

“My dad has been a die-hard Leeds fan for the last 40 years so when this came about I don’t think he knew what to say!

“But he’s happy for me and he’s proud of me. If I’m playing in the derby, he might be cheering for me but I don’t think he would be cheering for Bradford!”

All of that is still to come. And only maybe. Of more pressing concern is the certain task of tonight’s fixture with Hull.

Sutcliffe, the tall and languid stand-off, has only had three days to settle in with his new team-mates but is confident enough to think he can make a swift impact.

Scrum-half Luke Gale should take his normal organising and kicking role allowing the fellow Leeds-born player to concentrate on his usual repertoire.

“I think it will work well,” said Sutcliffe. “He can control the game and I can get round the back of things with a bit more of a running game.

“It’s been great and I’m enjoying it at the moment. I had my first day on Tuesday and all the lads and the coaching staff made me feel very welcome.

“It all happened pretty quickly but (Leeds coach) Brian (McDermott) gave some pretty good raps about the club and said it would be great to come here.

“It’s a learning curve so, hopefully, I can play 80 minutes in every game. All plays are pretty similar at every club so I’m just learning everyone’s names and I’m getting there with them.”

Both sides will benefit from the experience. Sutcliffe came off the bench in Leeds’ first game at Hull KR but has not featured since, effectively a casualty of the fact few modern-day sides can afford the luxury of auxiliary half-back among their replacements.

He realises Bradford who, for all their problems in administration know a third successive win tonight will already eradicate their six point penalty deduction, offers a perfect chance to hone what he clearly demonstrated last year.

“There was a choice of either staying at Leeds and probably playing in the Under-19s – which I don’t really want to do anymore as I played quite a few Super League games last season – or coming to Bradford,” he said.

“To come here and get more Super League game-time is a great opportunity. I don’t know whether I can be a regular starter as I’m still only 19, but I feel I can cope with Super League level.

“I played 18 games last year and one this season so I think I can cope with it.

“Last year I wasn’t expecting to get as many as games as I did.

“I was just expecting one and then concentrate on the Under-19s for the rest of the year.

“To get that many was a bit of a shock because it was a bit of a freak injury situation at Leeds. If I didn’t get picked I just had to show Brian that I was ready the week after.”

Sutcliffe, however, consistently showed why he is so highly-rated with some mature performances belying his tender years.

It was no surprise Leeds quickly tied him down to a long-term four-year deal last July, securing him, no doubt, as heir apparent to the legendary Sinfield.

Bradford, though, will seek more immediate gains from his skills set as, bizarrely, they look to reach zero points.

“That’s what we’ve talked about; we want to get on normal points,” said Sutcliffe, as they face a Hull side that has not won since round one against Catalan.

“Obviously London, Catalan and Wakefield haven’t won a game yet so we are hoping to get a few points on the board and start climbing the ladder.

“There has never been any doubt Bradford are a very good team. What has gone on in the background at the club hasn’t been great for the players and coaching staff.

“But their attitude is superb and they don’t see themselves as a relegation club. They see themselves as a top-eight team and that’s what we’re aiming for.”