STRICKEN STAND-OFF Liam Sutcliffe says he will come back a better player from his season-ending injury heartbreak.
Sutcliffe, who has played in all but six of Leeds Rhinos’ 21 games this year, was due to undergo surgery to repair a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament (acl) today.
The injury is a huge blow to Sutcliffe, who has emerged as one of the British game’s best young prospects, as well as Rhinos as they prepare for back-to-back games against their closest Super League rivals, plus an upcoming Challenge Cup semi-final.
The first challenge facing the 20-year-old has been to come to terms with the fact he will not play again this year – and then after the operation the long process of recovery and rehabilitation will start.
Rhinos’ Boxing Day challenge match, traditionally against Wakefield Trinity Wildcats, is the initial target for Sutcliffe’s return to the field and he is hoping to be fully fit for the start of the 2016 campaign, next February.
“It is the first big injury I’ve had and the type of injury it is, there’s not much you can do with it,” said Sutcliffe, who sustained the knee damage in Rhinos’ home Super League win over Hull on June 21.
“There’s no way I can come back this year, but I have got my head round it now and I’ll get into re-hab and hopefully make it a lot stronger.”
Sutcliffe admitted it took time to get over the initial shock.
At first he was hopeful the damage was not serious, but he said: “When I first got told, I didn’t know how to take it.
“When someone tells you you’re out for the year, I wasn’t sure what to do, because it’s the first time I’ve had a major injury and had to miss a lot of games.
“But Mags (Danny McGuire), JP (Jamie Peacock), Kal (Kallum Watkins) and Abbo (Carl Ablett) have had it before and they were straight into me, giving me advice.
“They’ve just told me to keep my head up about it, get on with my re-hab and hopefully come back next year.”
Peacock made a successful comeback from acl surgery well into his 30s and Sutcliffe added: “I am only young.
“I have got a big op’ coming up and I’ll be doing re-hab for the rest of the year.
“Hopefully next year I’ll come back a lot bigger, a lot stronger and a lot more improved.
“It is just something you’ve got to go through.
“A lot of players go through it, I’m not the first and I won’t be the last.
“I’ve just got to look at it in those terms.”
Sutcliffe has been an outstanding performer for Rhinos this year, at times keeping captain Kevin Sinfield out of the team.
With Sinfield set to join Yorkshire Carnegie Rugby Union Club at the end of the season, the former Hunslet Warriors junior admitted it will be tough having to watch from the sidelines for the next four months.
He was promoted into Rhinos’ elite top-20 squad this season and is aiming to be first-choice stand-off next year.
“It’s massively disappointing, especially with what’s coming up,” he said.
“We are in with a shout for every single trophy so it’s gutting I am not going to be able to be part of the team going for those trophies.
“But I will be there supporting and I’ll be with the lads.
“I’m not going to be out of things, I will be there at every game.”
Boss Brian McDermott is confident the long-term layoff will not do Sutcliffe lasting harm. He said: “It is a huge blow to him. At such a young age he has almost become an automatic selection in the 17. He has been brilliant this year and he has added another dimension to our pivots, but he is tough, he is very realistic and – though it’s easy to say – I’m sure it will do him good and next year he’ll be stronger for it.”
Meanwhile, Australian forward Mitch Garbutt could make his Rhinos debut tomorrow, at home to St Helens.
The former Brisbane Broncos prop arrived in this country on Saturday and had his first training session three days ago.
He has been named in Rhinos’ initial 19-man squad, along with Danny McGuire and Adam Cuthbertson, who both missed the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup quarter-final win at Hull last Friday through injury.
McGuire damaged an ankle in the league win over Hull the previous weekend and Cuthbertson suffered a calf problem in the same match.
Robbie Ward, who made his first appearance of the season off the bench against Hull in the Cup tie, drops out of the squad.
Winger Tom Briscoe (shoulder) and forwards Mitch Achurch (wrist) and Jamie Jones-Buchanan (hamstring) remain on the long-term casualty list.
Saints will select from the side which beat Widnes in the Challenge Cup last Sunday, plus Lewis Charnock and Matty Fleming.
Leeds Rhinos under-19s are due to face Hull at Stanningley on Saturday, with a noon kick-off.