The new season can’t come soon enough for Leeds Rhinos’ young star Liam Sutcliffe.
Rated as one of the best stand-off prospects in the British game, Sutcliffe was beginning to establish himself as a regular in Rhinos’ matchday 17 last year when he suffered a season-ending knee injury.
Anterior cruciate ligament damage, sustained against Hull at Headingley in June, led to knee reconstruction surgery and meant he missed Rhinos’ Challenge Cup and Super League Grand Final triumphs.
It was a bitter blow to a player who has made a big impact since breaking on to the first team scene in 2013 and is tipped to take over from Kevin Sinfield as Rhinos’ first-choice stand-off.
Leeds’ management opted not to bring in an experienced play-maker to replace Sinfield, instead putting faith in their homegrown former England academy ace.
Sutcliffe is already being referred to as Rhinos’ ‘next Kevin Sinfield’, but wants to make a mark in his own right and is determined not to focus on comparisons with the record-breaking ex-skipper.
“I’ve not really thought about that,” Sutcliffe insisted.
“If I put too much pressure on myself by thinking about that sort of thing it will put me off my game.
“I am just trying to concentrate on myself and my part in the team and what I can do to help the team win.”
Sutcliffe made a solid return in Rhinos’ pre-season victory over Bradford Bulls and will enter the new campaign fully fit and raring to go.
“Once I got the Bradford game out of the way I could start thinking ahead to the start of the season,” Sutcliffe said.
“I just want to get the season started and get playing now
“I’ve forgotten what it’s like to play and what all the feelings are like.
“The last few months have been tough, mentally more than anything.
“Missing all the finals was a tough thing for me to take personally, but on the other hand I was absolutely over the moon we had got all the trophies.
“I have had a great physio in Ben [Harper], who has been helping me out and always kept my spirits high.
“He didn’t let me get down, we had a laugh and that helped a lot.”
Sutcliffe’s return also gives Rhinos an added goal kicking option, which could be crucial after five of their six tries against Bulls went unconverted.
Sutcliffe will step up kicking practice following his return to the side and he said: “There’s a few of us who can kick goals.
“It’s good to have that many options, if one of us gets injured you have got back-ups to replace them.
“Jordan Lilley is a great goal kicker, Rob Burrow can kick as well so we aren’t short on options.”
Team-wise, Sutcliffe reckons Rhinos now have to move on from their achievements of last year.
“We are approaching it like any season,” he said. “Every team wants to win all three trophies and we are the same.
“Last year was a really tough year and this one is going to be even tougher. We just want to go out, string some good performances and some wins together and see how we go from there.”