THE NEW year means a fresh start for Leeds Rhinos prospect Alex Sutcliffe.
Sutcliffe, who will turn 20 later this month, endured a tough 2018, but is aiming to make a first team breakthrough this season.
A product of the Oulton Raiders community club, Sutcliffe made his Betfred Super League debut away to Wigan Warriors in July, 2017, and was awarded a squad number for the following campaign, but did not make a first-team appearance.
With first-choice centres Kallum Watkins and Konrad Hurrell both unavailable Sutcliffe featured in Rhinos’ opening pre-season game against Wakefield Trinity last week and is keen to show new boss Dave Furner what he is capable of.
“I am looking to get a few games under my belt,” Sutcliffe – who is no relation to teammate Liam Sutcliffe – said.
“I have had a few hard seasons with injuries, I have missed most games, so I have got to kick on now.
“I have had a good pre-season and I’ll just try to get as many games under my belt as I can.”
A year ago Sutcliffe was recovering from a shoulder reconstruction which meant he was unavailable early in the campaign when Rhinos’ injury crisis was at its worst.
“I am feeling really good now,” he insisted. “I am in top shape, probably the best shape of my life.
“I have been in since week one and worked my hardest so it’s good they’ve recognised me and put me in the team [for Boxing Day].
Sutcliffe can play both second-row and centre and admitted his long-term ambitions are in the forwards. He explained: “I’ve played back-row in the under-19s and I’d like to play there in the future.
“Right now, I’m not a back-rower - I am not big enough and probably not physical enough. I think centre’s my position at the moment and I am going to try and kick on and get as many games as I can.”
Furner was a back-rower in his playing days and Sutcliffe added: “He is class, he is really good. He has taught me a lot already since we’ve been in and I am really looking forward to working with him.”
Sutcliffe could be in contention for Rhinos’ next pre-season game at Doncaster on Sunday, January 13. He said: “I’d like to play as many as I can. I think Kallum’s testimonial against Castleford will be a full-strength squad and I don’t think I’ll play in that, but I’m looking to play in the rest of them.
“I am always trying to push everyone, like Kal and Konny and if I am trying my hardest there’s some competition in the centres so I am looking forward to it.”
Whatever happens over the next 10 months, Sutcliffe has already achieved one ambition.
“It was good,” he said of the clash with Wakefield. “It has always been a dream of mine to play at Headingley.
“It was a dream come true so I was really happy. I made my debut two years ago against Wigan, but I hadn’t played at Headingley. They put me in to give some players a rest and I really enjoyed it.”