SEVEN MONTHS of frustration and disappointment will come to an end on Sunday when Liam Sutcliffe makes his Leeds Rhinos return.
The 21-year-old stand-off has not played since suffering an anterior cruciate ligament injury during Rhinos’ home win over Hull on June 21, but is among the substitutes to face Bradford Bulls in Carl Ablett’s testimonial game at Headingley.
Sutcliffe underwent a knee reconstruction, but has been in full training since late December and said he is “really excited” to get back on the field, with less than two weeks to go until Rhinos begin their new First Utility Super League campaign.
“It is pretty nerve-wracking coming back after so long out, but I can’t wait to get out there and get among it,” said Sutcliffe, who is tipped to take over from Kevin Sinfield as Rhinos’ first-choice stand-off.
“I should imagine in the changing room before the game I will be pretty nervous, but once I get that first tackle or first carry out of the way I’ll be sweet after that.”
Sutcliffe scored six tries and 25 goals in 15 appearances last term and kept Sinfield out of the side for a spell, but had to watch from the sidelines as Rhinos swept to their historic trophy treble.
“It is a pretty lonely place, re-hab, when you are doing it by yourself,” he reflected.
“Once I got back out training with all the lads I was over the moon. I just want to get that first game now.”
The former Hunslet Warriors junior is confident his repaired knee will stand up to the strain of full contact.
“It’s fine,” he said. “I feel comfortable in training with the stuff I have been doing, so I imagine everything will be sweet.
“It’s the same with every game, even if you’re not coming back from injury, you just want to get that first carry or first tackle out of the way.
“It will be no different this week.”
Tomorrow’s is Rhinos’ only full-scale trial before they face visitors Warrington Wolves in Super League round one on Thursday, February 4.
Sutcliffe, who had a spell on loan at Bradford in 2014, said: “We want to get a good performance and put some of the stuff we’ve been learning in pre-season on to the pitch.
“With it being Carl Ablett’s testimonial we’d like to get the win for him as well.
“Bradford will want to come and turn us over, but we are confident with what we’ve been learning in pre-season and hopefully we can put it right on Sunday.”
Sutcliffe is a recognised goal kicker, but has not practiced since his injury.
He said: “I should imagine Zak [Hardaker] will be kicking. I will practice just in case.
“We’ve got a fair few kickers this year and it’s good to have that many options.”
Leeds Rhinos: Hardaker, Briscoe, Watkins, Moon, Hall, McGuire, Burrow, Galloway, Falloon, Cuthbertson, Delaney, Ablett, Singleton. Subs Sutcliffe, Garbutt, Keinhorst, Achurch, Walters, Handley, Golding, Lilley, Ferres.
Bradford Bulls: from Addy, Baile, Blythe, Caro, Clare, Ferguson, Fleming, Gaskell, Haggerty, Halafihi, Jacks, Kavanagh, Lauaki, Lumb, Mellor, O’Brien, Olbison, Pitts, Ryan, Sidlow, Thomas, Walker, Walshaw, Welham, Williams.
Referee: Gareth Hewer (Whitehaven).
Kick-off: Tomorrow, 3pm.