Wakefield Trinity v Leeds Rhinos - Alex Sutcliffe eager to grab early chance in Super League kick-off

GLANCING at the Leeds Rhinos 21-man squad list for today’s Betfred Super League opener against Wakefield Trinity, you could be forgiven for thinking there has been some random malfunction with the keyboard used.

New campaign: Leeds Rhinos’ Alex Sutcliffe during training on Friday, ahead of this weekend’s Super League kick-off. Rhinos face Wakefield Trinity on Saturday at Headingley. Picture: leeds rhinos

Aside from No 2 Tom Briscoe, all the club’s players from No 1 to No 6 are missing.

Before you start wondering, that’s Jack Walker, Harry Newman, Konrad Hurrell, Ash Handley and Robert Lui. And, yes, this is for the first game of the campaign.

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Luke Gale does come in at No 7 but, even then, much of the talk around Rhinos this pre-season is about whether their captain would be fit for the start after tearing a pectoral muscle on the first day of training.

Coach Richard Agar hopes the England scrum-half will line up this afternoon but, given Leeds’s rotten luck before a ball has even been kicked this year, fans might not believe anything until they see him on the field in kit.

Nevertheless, it says plenty about the strength of the squad assembled by Agar and his director of rugby Kevin Sinfield that many supporters will still fancy their chances of prevailing in the West Yorkshire derby at Emerald Headingley whatever 17 is finally picked.

Scrum-half Richie Myler could line up at full-back and, of course, he won the Lance Todd Trophy as man-of-the-match in that position when Leeds lifted the Challenge Cup in October.

At some point, dual-code England international Kyle Eastmond could appear in the halves for his debut after 10 years away in rugby union while Liam Sutcliffe has long since proven himself as a player of valuable versatility.

Luke Gale of Leeds Rhinos celebrates their Challenge Cup win last season. (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

Crucially, Leeds’s pack remains at full strength; indeed numbers eight to 17 are all named in the 21-man squad including Zane Tetevano and King Vuniyayawa, their new forwards from the NRL.

Moreover, one of the reasons Leeds will remain nonplussed by their notable absentees is that they have Alex Sutcliffe on board, the sort of consistently good, reliable young player who can slot in almost anywhere whenever.

It was for such reasons that Agar – in a surprise to many –picked him on the bench for the win at Wembley, having started the season on dual-registration at Featherstone Rovers.

The 22-year-old, equally adept at back-row or centre, did his job well and he was also picked for the play-offs game against Catalans Dragons so is relishing now getting another chance in today’s 2021 opener.

“Everyone’s looking forward to it,” he told The Yorkshire Post.

“We have quite a few versatile players who can play in various positions.

“Yes, we do only have Brisc and Galey from our starting one to seven but we have the likes of Sutty, who can play anywhere, and Jack Broadbent who can play multiple positions as well.

“I’ll be in the centres and up against Reece Lyne. He’s a really good centre, an England player. It should be a good challenge for me. But I don’t shy away from challenges. I’ve played against quite a few big-name centres like Kallum Watkins, Oliver Gildart and Israel Folau so I’m looking forward to it.”

Wakefield-born Sutcliffe – “I was born in Pinderfields but literally lived in Leeds all my life!” – certainly has the defensive aptitude to relish any such one-on-one.

As for his long-term position, he said: “I probably don’t know myself yet. It’s quite good that I can play centre and back-row. It’s given me some versatility and I’m not too fussed at the moment.

“My aim is to try and hold down a starting spot, whether centre or back-row, for these next few weeks while I have a chance to do so.”

After lifting the Challenge Cup, Sutcliffe feels Leeds can make a title bid this year.

He said: “I think we can go a step further. We have a good squad throughout from one to 30.

“With the season looking to be a bit more normal this year, there’s no reason why we can’t do one more.

“Wakefield have a big point to prove on Saturday.

“They probably didn’t finish where they’d have liked last year.

“They are a really good side, though, and have signed a couple of good players. It should be a good game to kick things off.”

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