LEEDS RHINOS’ Liam Sutcliffe will be hoping to turn the clock back 12 months when he runs out at Langtree Park tonight.
Sutcliffe produced a five-star display for Rhinos when they crushed St Helens 41-16 on their previous visit, a year and five days ago.
That victory lifted Rhinos six points clear at the top of First Utility Super League and had pundits tipping Sutcliffe as a future England stand-off.
The situation is different this time, with Rhinos third from bottom in the table and four points adrift of the top-eight.
With the team struggling, Sutcliffe, 21, has yet to recapture the form he showed last April, but he will go into tonight’s game boosted by a classy display in a morale-boosting win over Hull seven days ago and memories of what happened on Leeds’ last appearance at Saints.
“I think it was probably one of my better performances in a Leeds shirt,” Sutcliffe said of the big victory on April 17 last year. Hopefully I can replicate that this week.”
Sutcliffe is ever-present for Rhinos this year.
He started the first nine games at stand-off, before shifting to full-back – though he was named at wing – when Danny McGuire returned from a knee injury against Hull KR on Easter Monday.
He was in the centre the following week at Salford and moved back to No 6 last Friday, after McGuire was ruled out because of a calf problem.
With McGuire still sidelined – and centre Joel Moon back in contention – he is likely to retain the position this evening.
“You have got to take it on the chin and play wherever you’re told to,” he said of his different roles. I don’t mind where I play for this team, as long as I am in the team week-in and week-out.
“Wherever I am picked I don’t really have a problem with it and it’s a good thing to have, being able to fill in a few roles. If somebody gets injured I can fill in, so it’s not a bad situation to be in.”
Sutcliffe stressed he regards himself as a stand-off at this stage of his career, despite his utility experience.
“For now,” he said. “Who knows where I will be playing in a few years? It could be anywhere on the pitch, but I am a half-back now and I am going to try to stick to that. I played a bit of everywhere as a kid.
“I was mostly half-back or 13, but I played a bit of centre and full-back as well when I was younger.”
Sutcliffe felt his partnership with scrum-half Jordan Lilley, 19, took a step forward in last week’s win over Hull.
“Controlling-wise, especially in the first half, I think we did okay,” he said.
“There’s still a lot of things we can both work on, but we are aware of that and hopefully we’ll be better this week.”
This season has been a case of starting again for the Hunslet Warriors product, who was thrown straight into the deep end after half a year on the sidelines following a knee reconstruction.
But he insisted he is no longer in the comeback stage. He said: “I think I have got past that now, I think it’s down to me and I just need to keep working hard at my game.
“If I keep improving I know what type of player I can be. I was out for a long time, but that’s in the past now.
“I just want to try and improve my game and really get back to the form I know I can show.”
The team outlook is similar, with Rhinos aiming to rebuild after a disastrous start to the season.
Sutcliffe feels the victory a week ago has given everybody in the camp a lift and he added: “It is always good coming in after a win.
“Everyone is in high spirits and we just want to kick on now and try and get back-to-back wins, but Saints away is going to be a very tough game.
“It was tough at Headingley a few weeks ago and we are expecting a tough test.
“We know what type of side Saints are, they are always going to come at you. You can never write them off.
“When they got a win at Warrington the other week I thought they did really well to do that. They are going to be really tough to beat at their place, but hopefully we can do it.”
With a success over a top-four team behind them, Leeds have an opportunity to go on a run and push towards securing a place in the Super-8s.
“Hopefully the win last Friday will give us some momentum,” Sutcliffe said.
“Against a really tough side it will give everyone a lot of confidence.
“It was a tough game and they have been performing really well, but we got the win and we just want to kick on now.
“We want a fair few wins to give ourselves a chance of the top-four and, hopefully, we can start this week, kick on and hopefully climb the ladder.”
Last week’s game was played in torrential rain and Sutcliffe reckons Rhinos will improve as the conditions do.
“We can’t seem to get a game in good weather,” he said.
“We like to throw the ball about a bit and, hopefully, when the dry weather comes that will suit us.
“You have to change your game plan in conditions like it was last week. That doesn’t help your preparations, but everyone has to deal with that.”