THE MIDDLE-EIGHTS aren’t where Leeds Rhinos wanted to be this year, but full-back Liam Sutcliffe says he has enjoyed the experience.
Rhinos’ ninth-place finish in Super League plunged them into a relegation battle in the First Utility Qualifiers.
They secured their top-flight status with a fifth successive win last Friday and Leigh Centurions, who Rhinos face in their final match a week tonight at Headingley Carnegie, have become the first team to win promotion through the controversial eights format.
Sutcliffe reckons that shows the system, introduced last year, does work and he said: “I have enjoyed the middle-eights.
“Obviously there is a lot of pressure to try and retain your Super League status, but you still go into games looking forward to it.
“They are must-win games so you have to be really focused and I have found them pretty entertaining.”
Leigh, who finished top of the Kingstone Press Championship, are the only other team with a 100 per cent winning record.
They sealed promotion with a dramatic win over Huddersfield Giants last Saturday, which came after they had already beaten top-flight teams Salford Red Devils and Hull KR.
“It is good for the current system,” Sutcliffe said. “Last year no teams came up, it was the same teams in Super League.
“I think in terms of the system we are using now, to see a Championship team come up might prove to some people that it works.
“Some people might still not like it, but it is good to have them there.”
Huddersfield, who host Rhinos on Sunday, are fighting for their Super League lives, along with Salford and Hull KR.
Sutcliffe said Rhinos are expecting a “battle” and he insisted it is not a meaningless match for Leeds.
“They will be trying to put a big performance in and get the win,” he said of Giants, who beat Rhinos twice at John Smith’s Stadium earlier in the year.
“But we aren’t thinking about them, we are thinking about ourselves. We want to win all seven of these games and we’ll be looking to try and get another win this weeks.
“We are relieved we are safe and sorted for next year.
“But we still want to put some hard work in over the next two weeks.
“There’s only two weeks of the season left so you might as well put everything into it and then you can have a rest after.”
Rhinos are unbeaten in two months and have won their last eight Super League and Qualifiers fixtures.
But Sutcliffe said they are looking to improve their performances.
“We are preparing really well and have been doing for the last few months,” he said.
“We have been working hard this week.
“We have got a pretty long turnaround and we’ve got plenty of training in.
“We’ve been working on the things we need to put right and hopefully we’ll go from there.”