Leeds Rhinos: Improving key skills crucial to pre-season says Liam Sutcliffe

PRE-SEASON IS a time for lifting weights and getting some miles into legs, but Leeds Rhinos are also putting an emphasis on improving their skills.

Friday, 22nd November 2019, 6:00 am
Leeds Rhinos' Liam Sutcliffe.

Strength and fitness have been key features of Rhinos’ work so far, but coach Richard Agar felt the fundamentals were what let Rhinos down at times last term and is putting a big emphasis on setting that right.

As they showed in flashes towards the end of 2019, Leeds are a team who can be devastating when everything clicks, but they were also had a habit of letting teams off the hook and putting themselves under pressure with unforced errors – something they can’t afford to repeat next term.

Liam Sutcliffe, now one of the senior players in the squad, is into his third week of pre-season and confirmed “We are doing a lot of skills.”

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Liam Sutcliffe.

He said: “Rich has been really good, he wants our skill-level really high and he has brought a lot of that into pre-season.

“We’ve been doing a lot of hard work on top of it, but last year what let us down a fair bit was skills, so it is good he has brought that in.”

Sutcliffe made more appearances for Rhinos than any other player this year.

He sat out Leeds’ third game of the campaign, a win at Salford Red Devils in February, but was otherwise ever-present, scoring scoring six tries and 57 goals in 30 appearances.

The Hunslet Warriors product, who will celebrate his 25th birthday on Monday, had spells at both stand-off and in the second-row, as well as four games off the bench and was one of the side’s most consistent performers in another disappointing year.

Next season will be his eighth in Rhinos’ senior squad – making him second to Stevie Ward as the club’s longest-serving player – and he has been through the ups and downs, playing in the 2014 Challenge Cup and 2017 Grand Final triumphs, as well as relegation battles during three of the past four campaigns.

While pre-season – and training without playing – is not what any player looks forward to, Sutcliffe reckons the next few weeks are when the foundations for a successful year will be laid.

“It’s good to be back in,” he insisted. “It’s pretty tough, but everyone’s enjoying it.

“I think I am used to it by now, the more pre-seasons you do you, the more you know what’s wanted from you.

“There’s a lot of fitness, a lot of ball skills and a lot of weights and obviously it is tough at first, but everyone does their job, everyone rips in and we are all looking forward to games coming around again.”

After a slow start Rhinos finished last season relatively strongly, but their aim is to hit the ground running next year.

“Obviously it [pre-season] is massive,” Sutcliffe admitted “Everyone’s aware of where we were last year and we don’t want to be there again.

“There’s a few boys still to come back, but the majority were in the first week and it’s good to have that.”

The last two seasons have been a turbulent time for Rhinos, who have had three different head coaches and Sutcliffe conceded that has made life difficult for both individuals and the team.

He reflected: “It was a bit of a weird one last year, with different coaches and things like that. Hopefully this year, with a decent pre-season under my belt, I can have a big year next year.”

Despite being named in the squad earlier in the year, Sutcliffe did not feature when England Knights played Jamaica at Headingley in a one-off Test last month. He revealed that was due to injury, rather than selection.

“I don’t know whether I would have been picked for the Test, I was in the squad at the start, but I pulled out,” he reported.

“I had a couple of niggles towards the end of the year so I was unavailable, but I am fully fit now.”