Leeds Rhinos: Wider issues at Bulls won’t distract Rhinos’ rising star Sutcliffe

Liam Sutcliffe. PIC: Bruce Rollinson
Liam Sutcliffe. PIC: Bruce Rollinson
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SHOOTING STAR Liam Sutcliffe will be sorry to see Bradford Bulls relegated from First Utility Super League at the end of this season, but hopes to rub salt into their wounds tonight.

Sutcliffe had a month at Bradford on loan from Leeds Rhinos earlier this season and admitted Super League won’t be the same when the Odsal outfit drop into the Kingstone Press Championship.

“I am disappointed for all the players,” said Sutcliffe, who was Bulls’ starting stand-off in three of the four games he played for them, bagging a try in his final appearance, away to Widnes Vikings.

“It’s disappointing for Jimmy (coach James Lowes) as well and for Franny (previous boss Francis Cummins), who did a great job in the month I was there.

“Leeds-Bradford derbies are great games to play in and I would have liked to play in more. Hopefully they will bounce back and I’ll get the chance.”

The spell at Bradford was good for Sutcliffe’s career development, he said.

“It was great getting into a different club and seeing how other players work,” he recalled. “Francis Cummins and (assistant-coach) Lee St Hilaire were great and the club was great for me. I got a lot of game time and that experience will help me in the future.”

Bulls picked up their first win since Lowes – a former assistant to Leeds boss Brian McDermott – took over as coach when they stunned champions Wigan Warriors 16-8 at Odsal five days ago. That was only Bradford’s fifth victory of the year, but Sutcliffe admitted it is a warning to Leeds ahead of tonight’s clash.

Sutcliffe predicted: “I think it will be a very tough game, Leeds-Bradford games usually are. We won pretty convincingly at Easter, but they are on the back of a good win over Wigan.

“James Lowes is a great coach and it will be a big game for them. They showed what they can do last week and now their future is sorted they will want to finish the season on a high. They won’t want to lie down, they will be wanting to win all their remaining games.”

Relegation already looked a certainty when Lowes was appointed as Cummins’ successor in June, but Sutcliffe reckons last week’s win shows he is coming to grips with the job.

“When a new coach comes in it is not going to get sorted straight away,” Sutcliffe said. “It is going to take time, because he has got to get to know the players and bring new ideas in. Maybe they are getting used to it now, so that will make it a tough game for us.”

Sutcliffe will put sentiment to one side this evening. It is Rhinos’ final game before the Tetley’s Challenge Cup semi-final against Warrington Wolves in eight days’ time and victory could take them top of the table, if St Helens lose away to Hull.

“We have got to keep winning,” said Sutcliffe, who was recalled to the team which beat Salford Red Devils 22-18 a week ago.

“We want to finish top and we want to put a good performance in. I think we have got a real chance, we are two points behind Saints and they’ve just lost Luke Walsh, who is big for them. We have got to keep winning and if we do we will be in a strong position at the end of the year.”

Leeds are unbeaten in three matches and Sutcliffe feels their form is “starting to pick up”.

He added: “There’s a lot to work on, but we are coming to the business end. Training-wise we are picking up the intensity and performances are starting to get stronger and stronger.”

If selected, tonight will be Sutcliffe’s 18th appearance for Leeds this year and he admitted: “I have played a lot more games than I thought I would get.

“Last year because of injuries I got a lot of game time and I wasn’t expecting that this season. I was hoping to build on last year and get some more games. It has been good to get a run of consistent games and I just want to build on my performances, but I am happy.”

Sutcliffe was dropped to the under-19s two weeks ago, when Rhinos faced Castleford Tigers, but said he “took it on the chin” and added: “Mac told me the reasons why and I can’t complain at all. I have had a lot of game time. It was a bit weird, playing in the 19s, but I enjoyed it.”

Bulls’ initial 19-man squad for tonight includes Sutcliffe’s former Hunslet Warriors and Rhinos under-19s team-mate Jordan Baldwinson.

The prop left Leeds a year ago to link up with New Zealand Warriors, but that did not work out and he returned to this country for a spell with Bradford, before rejoining Rhinos next season.

“I’ve not spoken to him,” Sutcliffe said. “It’ll be good to have him back, he was a great player at Leeds in the 19s and he’s a good lad to have around.”

Lois Forsell

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