LONG-TERM CASUALTY Liam Sutcliffe is hopeful of being fit for the start of the season, in less than a month’s time.
The Leeds Rhinos stand-off has been sidelined for more than half a year due to a serious knee injury, but is now back in full training and raring to go.
The 21-year-old Hunslet Warriors product, who was Rhinos’ Yorkshire Evening Post Shooting Star in 2013, has not been selected for tomorrow’s Lazenby Cup tie at Hunslet Hawks, but could play at least once before the champions face Warrington Wolves in their First Utility Super League opener on Thursday, February 4.
Sutcliffe said: “I am back training, the first time I joined in with the team fully was the Tuesday before Christmas.
“We did some team stuff versus each other, so it was a good test to see how I would cope.
“It went pretty well. My knee is fine and, at the moment, I think it is just in my head.
“I did some kicking the other day and I was a bit wary of kicking it hard.
“It took me a bit of time to get into it. Obviously it is going to be in my head for a bit, but as soon as I started training I didn’t really think about it, or about being injured.
“I just tried to do what I normally do and I pulled up pretty well.”
Rhinos have a match during their American training camp and will also play Bradford Bulls in Carl Ablett’s testimonial on January 24 and visit new dual-registration partners Featherstone Rovers a week later.
Sutcliffe said: “I am hoping to get a bit of game time, to get back into the physicality and the speed of things. Hopefully, come the season, I will be ready to go.”
Sutcliffe scored six tries and 25 goals in 15 appearances last season – 11 of them in the starting line-up – but has not played since Rhinos’ home win over Hull on June 21.
He admitted the lay-off, which came when he was beginning to establish himself as a regular in the matchday 17, has been “massively frustrating” and added: “I can’t believe how long it takes to come back from an acl [anterior cruciate ligament injury].
“It is boring going through all the re-hab process, but I have had a really good physio in Ben Harper who has kept me going all the way through it.
“It is good that he can have a laugh with me, as well as being the physio.
“It has been good to have him about.
“I am just looking forward to the season now and getting my first game under my belt.”
Sutcliffe’s return to training is positive news for Rhinos, who see him as the long-term replacement for club legend Kevin Sinfield, both as stand-off and goal kicker.
Sutcliffe kept Sinfield, who is now playing rugby union with Yorkshire Carnegie, out of the team for several games last year before being hurt and is regarded as one of Super League’s brightest prospects.
“It is going to be a big year for me, but I think it’s going to be a big year for the team,” Sutcliffe predicted. After doing the treble last year it is going to be hard to match that, but we are confident in our ability.
“We’ve recruited really well in the likes of Anthony Mullally, Beau Falloon, Keith Galloway and now Brett Ferres so we are looking really strong and, hopefully, we can have some more success.”