Leeds Rhinos: Aussie ace Cuthbertson set for magical performance

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AUSSIE IMPORT Adam Cuthbertson believes in Magic.

The in-form forward will get his first taste of a Magic Weekend when Leeds Rhinos take on Wigan Warriors in Newcastle tonight.

Adam Cuthbertson.

Adam Cuthbertson.

He reckons the concept – which sees an entire First Utility Super League round played on the same pitch over two days – is a winner.

This is Magic’s ninth year and the first time it has been held in the north-east.

“It’s good. It’s a good way to get the entire group of the Super League together and I suppose celebrate the game,” said Cuthbertson, who is aiming to help Rhinos end a two-game Magic Weekend losing streak against Wigan.

“I think the closest thing the NRL have is the Nines weekend, which started just as I was leaving.

“That was great, there was a lot of fans there and a lot of mutual support in certain games, so it’s good to see fans – whether in the NRL or over here – get out and support the game in general.”

The Magic Weekend has a different atmosphere to other fixtures in the weekly rounds and Cuthbertson reckons facing one of Rhinos’ main rivals at St James’ Park adds spice to what is always a huge clash.

“We’re playing Wigan, so that’s going to be a big one regardless,” he said.

“But the venue we’re playing at is obviously going to be exciting. It’ll be good to play on a football pitch up there.

“Hopefully, we can get it quite full. If it’s 40,000 or so it should be a good atmosphere and a great day.”

Rhinos are known as a big-game team, despite having lost to Wigan – both by four points – at each of the past two Magic Weekends, staged at Manchester’s Etihad Stadium.

“You can see the sort of form we pulled out of our back pocket when it came to playing in the Challenge Cup, after a couple of bad games in a row,” Cuthbertson said.

“I haven’t played too many really big games yet for Leeds, but I would imagine the boys have plenty of experience of playing in games like this.”

A win for Leeds, plus victory for Warrington Wolves over second-placed St Helens, would see Rhinos open a five-point gap at the top of the table, but it will be down to one if they lose and Saints come away with the spoils.

Cuthbertson observed: “We’ll still be top, but it will make it that much tighter if we don’t win.

“Coming to the back end of the season, you need as many points as you can get – you need a good for and against and as many points as possible on the table going into the Super-8s.

“When that starts you are playing a top-eight team every week, so it is going to be hard. You have to collect as many points as you can get – and points carry over into the Super-8s.

“The more you can have when you go in there, obviously the better it is.”

There are just eight rounds remaining before First Utility Super League splits into Super-8s and the Qualifiers, which will involve the bottom four teams against leading sides from the Kingstone Press Championship.

The new format is untested, but Cuthbertson reckons the RFL have hit on a winning formula.

“I think it’s a really good idea,” he said.

“I know the season’s long, but you get the top-eight teams together at the end of the season and then they battle it off for the top-four positions.

“Usually, the top eight are in with a chance of getting to the Grand Final, but that top four is the most consistent, best teams all year round.

“Getting them into play-off finals together, for a place in the Grand Final, makes a lot of sense.”

Walking out at Old Trafford is Cuthbertson’s ultimate goal in his first season at Rhinos.

His form this year has already led to speculation he could be called into the England squad for the end-of-season Test series against New Zealand.

The former Newcastle Knights man, whose father was born in Warrington, feels his form is getting back to where he wants it to be.

“I’m happy,” he said. “I feel I really added a dimension to my game last weekend and I am just working really hard to improve more and more each week.

“It was a bit tiring, obviously, after the Easter weekend. For a couple of games after that, I must admit I was feeling it.

“But I got a break away when we had four days off recently and I feel like I am better for it now.”

Leeds Rhinos (from): Hardaker, Handley, Watkins, Moon, Hall, Sinfield, McGuire, Cuthbertson, Aiton, Peacock, S Ward, Achurch, Ablett, Burrow, Sutcliffe, Singleton, Walters, Delaney, Jones-Buchanan.

Wigan Warriors (from): Bowen, Charnley, J Tomkins, Sarginson, Burgess, Powell, Smith, Crosby, McIllorum, Mossop, Bateman, Patrick, O’Loughlin, Williams, Tautai, Sutton, C Farrell, Flower, Hampshire.

Referee: Phil Bentham (Warrington).

Kick-off: Tonight, 7pm, at St James’ Park, Newcastle.