THEY SEEM to be back on track, but Liam Sutcliffe admits it will be several more weeks before Leeds Rhinos can judge if they have really turned a corner.
After their ninth-placed finish last year, Leeds hit a new low two weeks ago when they slumped to a record 66-10 defeat at Castleford Tigers.
That raised questions over the long-term future of coach Brian McDermott and his players, who – in a message to fans from chief executive Gary Hetherington – were given a month to turn things around.
There were signs of a revival in last Friday’s 46-10 success against Catalans Dragons and Leeds went into Super League round five in a healthy fourth place on the table, though having played one more game than most of their rivals.
But Sutcliffe is aware the positivity last week’s result produced will be lost if they slip-up at home to neighbours Wakefield Trinity tonight and he reckons the real work still lies ahead.
“Obviously it was an improved performance against Catalans,” said the 22-year-old, who is ever-present for Leeds so far this season.
“Hopefully, we can keep on improving now and that starts against Wakey.
“There were a lot of things that went wrong against Cas, obviously, and a lot of things we worked on last week in training.
“It wasn’t just one thing, there were a fair few things and we put them right last week.
“Now we have to keep improving and keep working hard and not let that result against Cas happen again.”
Now we have to keep improving and keep working hard and not let that result against Cas happen again.Leeds Rhinos’ Liam Sutcliffe
Leeds’ attacking performance last week was their best since August, 2015, when they beat Hull KR – coached by current Wakefield boss Chris Chester – 50-0 in the Challenge Cup final.
Rhinos have struggled to score points for more than a season, but Sutcliffe reckons they have proved – to themselves and everyone else – they can put teams to the sword when they get theri act together and ‘click’.
He said: “The first few games this year we weren’t up to scratch with our attack and it was nice to see some fluency and some real strike power in what we were throwing at them.
“We have worked at it again this week and, hopefully, it will come good again.
“We want to win every game we play. We will lose one here and there, but we want to go on as long a run as we can.
“Hopefully that started last week and we can carry it on against Wakey.”
Trinity lost their opening two games of the season, after holding a second half lead in both, but are on a two-match winning run following victories over St Helens and Salford Red Devils.
Both came thanks to a late try and Sutcliffe said Rhinos are expecting to be pushed right to the wire.
“They are a very good side,” he said of tonight’s visitors.
“We are under no illusions, we played them on Boxing Day and they were a really tough side then.
“They have had some really good results this year, so we know it’s going to be a hard game.”
Sutcliffe was named at stand-off last week, but played in the second-row.
That allowed Joel Moon to start in the halves, with Jimmy Keinhorst at centre.
All three impressed in Rhinos’ seven-try win and Sutcliffe also had a good night with the boot, landing nine goals from as many attempts.
Despite making it clear he wants to start at stand-off, Sutcliffe is listed in Rhinos’ official handbook as a loose-forward and admitted he felt at home in the pack.
Leeds are light on forwards at the moment with second-rowers Stevie Ward and Jamie Jones-Buchanan and prop Keith Galloway all on the injury list.
Brett Ferres has been named in tonight’s initial 19-man squad for the first time this season and Mitch Garbutt is in contention after a two-game lay-off, but Brad Singleton is beginning a six-match ban.
With doubts over so many forwards, Sutcliffe’s ability to play in the pack gives coach Brian McDermott a useful option.
“It was something different and I really enjoyed it,” he said of his move from the backs to the forwards last week
“I enjoyed being in the middle of the park.
“Catalans are a big set so it was a good challenge to be in there with them.”
Last week’s 100 per cent record with the boot took Sutcliffe’s success rate this year to 80 per cent and was, he admitted, a real boost to confidence.
“I’ve been practicing all pre-season,” he said.
“Sometimes you get good days and sometimes you get bad days.
“I have still been working hard each week to try and improve and get better.
“There were a few under the sticks last week, but it’s always a confidence-booster to not miss one.
“Hopefully, I can crack on with that.”