IT was only last year but Liam Sutcliffe admits he cannot remember too much of the detail around Leeds Rhinos’ victorious Challenge Cup final weekend.
They start out on the road to Wembley again today when they host West Yorkshire rivals Huddersfield Giants in the televised sixth-round clash.
Defeating county rivals Castleford Tigers in August had marked the end of a long odyssey for many of their players, some of whom had lost all six previous Challenge Cup finals in which they had played.
Sutcliffe, then still a teenager, came off the bench to play his part but after that it is “all a bit of a blur.”
“I don’t think I remembered the night after the final,” he recalled, ahead of this afternoon’s game as the Super League leaders seek to end a three-game run without a victory.
“It was a free bar at the team hotel and we made the most of that.
“And I was a bit hungover on the bus journey back to Leeds but no-one took the smiles off their faces.
“It was massive for me. It was my first final in only my second season and just to get out there and be part of it was huge, to run out at Wembley Stadium.
“Team-wise, just to see the likes of Kevin Sinfield, Danny McGuire and Jamie Peacock, who’d been in a few finals, was a really good feeling.
“It had been so many years without winning it, so it was just a big relief.
“But once you get your first trophy you want to taste it again and that’s our aim now.
“That’s not just the Challenge Cup – we want to win everything so hopefully we can turn our form around and go for a big push towards the end of the season.”
The sides met barely a fortnight ago when the derby at Huddersfield ended in stalemate with a 24-24 draw following Giants’ stirring second-half comeback.
Sutcliffe, who missed a late drop goal attempt to snatch it, said: “We learned from that that we need to play for the full 80.
“We did some pretty good stuff in the first period but didn’t continue it.
“I scuffed that kick at the end and I was beating myself up for a few days after that. But I’ll learn from that, too, and if the moment comes again I will slot it.
“I can’t put my finger on what’s gone wrong the last few weeks.
“Every team goes through a bad patch. We’re going through ours now but we’re working hard in training and hopefully we’ll put it right on Saturday.”
Sutcliffe, of course, has made the headlines not only for his mature displays this season helping to control the Leeds side but the fact that his form is keeping Sinfield, the club’s legendary captain, on the sidelines.
The former England captain – who the young schemer has predictably been compared to – has not played in either of the last two games.
But Sutcliffe, 20, insisted: “Kev’s not changed. Obviously he’ll be disappointed at not playing but training wise he’s still 100 per cent and still giving me tips and advice when I need them.
“And him breathing down my neck will benefit the team – competition for places is always good so hopefully we can give Brian (McDermott) a few headaches.
“Kev is my sporting hero and I’ve looked up to him since I was a kid. Him, Rob Burrow and Danny have been huge for me since I first came into training with their advice. I’m always grateful.
“But, as for that comparison, myself and Kevin are different types of player so I don’t really think of it.
“It’s a nice compliment as Kev’s an amazing player but I just try and stay focused on my own thing.”
Rhinos could welcome back England winger Ryan Hall (wrist), plus Jamie Jones-Buchanan (hamstring). Jimmy Keinhorst and Josh Walters drop out of the match-day squad.