LEEDS RHINOS’ No 21 feels he has come of age.
Shooting Star Liam Sutcliffe turned in an impressive display at half-back in Rhinos’ 13-12 defeat by St Helens, six days after earning a Tetley’s Challenge Cup winner’s medal at the first attempt.
The versatile 19-year-old scored Leeds’ only try in the controversial loss to Saints in what was one of his most impressive performance at senior level – and he reckons that was due to the fresh injection of confidence and belief that came from playing in a Cup-winning team.
“I still don’t think it has sunk in fully,” Sutcliffe said of his part in the Cup success.
“To go from watching in the stands at Wembley to playing on the pitch, it was a bit surreal.
“It is going to help me massively for the rest of the season, just being part of the build-up and seeing how to prepare for a big game like that.
“It has all been a good experience for me and hopefully I’ll get to play in many more finals.
“I have had massive help from the more experienced lads and they told me to go out and take it all in.
“They said you don’t want to go out and play and then not remember any of the game or the build-up.
“I think I managed to do that.”
Sutcliffe insisted a Wembley hangover wasn’t responsible for Leeds’ third successive First Utility Super League defeat, a result which ended any chance of claiming the leaders’ shield and left their top-four hopes hanging in the balance.
Rhinos played for three-quarters of the game a man down after centre Joel Moon was sent-off for an alleged head-high shoulder charge on Saints’ Mark Percival.
“We trained well all week,” Sutcliffe said.
“We didn’t want to be one of those teams that come out of a Challenge Cup final and suffer a big loss.
“We wanted to back up and it’s just a shame we didn’t get the result.
“We can take something from it though. It is always going to be tough against Saints with 13 men, never mind 12.
“You can’t fault our effort, but it was disappointing not to get the win.”
Rhinos led 12-2 going into the final 20 minutes, with Kevin Sinfield adding a conversion and three penalty goals to Sutcliffe’s first-half touchdown, but the effort of defending against an extra man told late on.
Despite the result, Sutcliffe was satisfied with his own contribution, including the touchdown.
“I remember Brett Delaney running sideways,” he recalled.
“I didn’t know what he was going to do, then he turned back to pass it, there was a bit of a gap and I managed to get through it and over the line.”
Rhinos failed to score in the second half, but created some chances and Sutcliffe added: “We made a few mistakes.
“We should have been finishing the chances we had, but it happens in games like that. It was wet conditions and the ball was greasy.”
Wigan Warriors’ shock defeat at Widnes Vikings means second spot is still wide open – and Rhinos face a crunch trip to DW Stadium on Friday.
“We will come in on Monday raring to go,” Sutcliffe predicted. “It is a big game this week and it’s always tough at Wigan.
“We will get a good week’s training behind us and fully prepare for Wigan.
“We want to put things right and put ourselves in a good position to win the Grand Final.
“Last Friday’s game had a play-off feel to it and that’s what you want coming to the end of the year, tough games and tight, close scores.
“It will put us in good stead for the last few league games and the play-offs.
“We have been in a lot of close games this year, but we want to be winning them.
“We want to go into the play-offs in good form, so hopefully we can put things right this week.
“Wigan lost on Friday so they will want to put things right as well, then we go to Hull next week.
“That’s never an easy place to go and they will want to finish strongly, so we are expecting two tough games going into the play-offs.”
Sutcliffe stressed: “We want to build momentum.
“On Friday we didn’t get the result, but everybody’s effort was spot on, so hopefully we can build some momentum, put a real show on in the play-offs and try and get to the Grand Final.”
Sutcliffe has also played in the back-row for Rhinos and at centre, but reckons in the halves is where he feels most at home. He said: “That’s what I prefer.
“It’s where I played as a junior and all through the academy.
“But if being a utility-player gets me in the team, I don’t mind where I play.”