SATURDAY’S BETFRED Super League Grand Final will be the end of a long road back for both Leeds Rhinos and their home-grown talent Liam Sutcliffe.
The Hunslet Warriors product watched from the stands – while recovering from a knee reconstruction – when Rhinos beat Wigan Warriors to win the 2015 Super League Grand Final, completing an historic treble.
Sutcliffe returned to fitness last year, but the 2016 season was a disaster for Rhinos, who slumped to ninth in the table and found themselves battling against relegation in the middle-eights Qualifiers.
Both team and player have been written off at times, but came up with a strong response this year and, for Sutcliffe, appearing in his first Grand Final will be a dream come true.
“It is a massive game and one of the games you want to be involved in when you are a kid,” he said. “You want to be part of the whole week and the game itself and I can’t wait.
“Last year was a very tough year for us and to bounce back like we have and be second in the league, semi-finalists in the Challenge Cup and to get to the Grand Final is massive.
“We have had some bad times this year, but we’ve managed to put them behind us and really bounce back from them whereas last year we didn’t.”
Rhinos will be underdogs against a Castleford team who finished 10 points clear at the top of the table and have beaten Leeds four times this year.
“It is all on the day, but how Cas have performed this year is credit to them,” Sutcliffe said.
“They have been the outstanding team all year and they’ve never dropped off once. It is going to be a massive ask for us and we are going to have to be at our very best, but I think anything can happen in a Grand Final.”
Last year was a very tough year for us and to bounce back like we have and be second in the league, semi-finalists in the Challenge Cup and to get to the Grand Final is massive.Leeds Rhinos’ Liam Sutcliffe
Rhinos trailed 30-6 at half-time when the sides met at the Jungle last month, but Leeds rallied to outscore Tigers 18-8 in the second period and Sutcliffe reckons that gave them something to build on.
“From the first half we couldn’t really do much worse,” he reflected.
“We turned it around in the second half, but we were still not pleased with how we played and really disappointed to lose the game. But the last few weeks we have improved game on game and, hopefully, we can go one better on Saturday.”
Sutcliffe has played 25 times this season and, at just 22, has more than 100 Rhinos appearances under his belt.
He said: “It hasn’t been a bad year for me, I have been playing centre for the last couple of months and I’ve been enjoying that role.
“Hopefully on Saturday, I’ll have a good game and we can win as a team and lift that trophy again. Getting to the Grand Final is a massive buzz and we’ve shown a lot of character, especially to hold out in the last 20 minutes of the semi-final (against Hull). That was a tough game but it’s what we needed. We know it is going to be a tough game this week and Castleford will throw everything at us. Hopefully, we can withstand that and build some pressure of our own.”