“ABSOLUTELY KNACKERED in every way!”
That was youngster Alex Sutcliffe’s to the point answer when asked how he was feeling after his Leeds Rhinos debut.
The 18-year-old Oulton Raiders product was one of seven teenagers in the Rhinos team which closed their regular Betfred Super League campaign with a 34-0 defeat at Wigan Warriors.
A week ahead of the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup semi-final against Hull, coach Brian McDermott opted to hand some of Leeds’ next generation an opportunity to gain experience at the top level and Sutcliffe got his first senior appearance after several previous games as 18th man.
“It was unbelievably tiring and physical, but I enjoyed every minute of it,” Sutcliffe said. “I was nervous, properly nervous, before the game, but once the whistle blew I was all right.
“The speed of the game was a big difference from the under-19s and how physical they [Wigan] were and how smart they were with the ball.
“You have got to be on the money all the time and unfortunately we weren’t.”
Wigan were close to full-strength and Sutcliffe was thrown in at the deep end, finding himself going head to head with giant forward Frank-Paul Nuuausala early in the game.
He said: “I thought why’s he running at me? I am going to run the other way in a minute!
“I had to do it, I had to do it at some point, so I might as well do it first tackle and get it out of the way.
“I didn’t want to mess it up and let him score under the sticks, but I’m happy I tackled him.”
Sutcliffe was told last Monday he would be starting in the centres.
Despite his previous 18th man duties, he admitted he hadn’t expected to break into Super League this year.
He said: “I thought I might have a shot earlier in the year when we were playing teams like Barrow and Doncaster, but not against a team like Wigan.
“I feel privileged really to play against a team like that.
“I didn’t think I’d have any chance this year so I am over the moon.
“I loved it and I am going to keep working as hard as I can and try and push to play more games.”
Sutcliffe wasn’t born the previous time Rhinos failed to score in a game, against Halifax in September, 1998.
Leeds defended enthusiastically, but were out of their depth physically and struggled to get any go-forward.
“It’s not good to ever get a loss, but with the team we had out I thought it was a really good performance and everyone gave it their all,” Sutcliffe – who is no relation to Leeds’ Liam Sutcliffe – said.
“I thought in some areas we weren’t too smart, like when we were running the ball and we were running it in at 100 miles an hour, trying to be big men.
“We just needed to be smarter and get down to the floor a couple of times. I did it twice.”
Sutcliffe has played centre for the academy, but his specialist position is in the back-row. “Anywhere they want me to play, I’ll play,” he said.
“I am not fussy.
“As a kid growing up all I wanted to do was play for Leeds.
“That has been my club that I’ve grown up with so to have played for them is unbelievable.
“It is a dream come true. I’ve been 18th man before, but the nerves were what got to me before the game – thinking am I going to do this right, will I let the team down?
“I am like that in most games, for the 19s and when I was playing amateur as well.
“I didn’t want to mess up for the team, because the team’s the most important thing.
“The other lads just said ‘play your normal game, don’t do anything different – you have earned the shirt and you are in for a reason, because you are good enough. Just go out and prove it’.”