Versatile Alex Sutcliffe learning on the job at Leeds Rhinos

BEING 18TH man is probably the most frustrating job in any rugby league squad – as Alex Sutcliffe found out during Leeds Rhinos’ defeat by Wigan Warriors.

By Peter Smith
Thursday, 20th August 2020, 6:00 pm

Sutcliffe had to be mentally ready to play, warmed up with the team, but then dropped out before kick-off.

“It is a hard one,” he admitted of being non-playing reserve. “You get ready to play and then it’s like it’s stripped away from you.

“It is a bit of a tough one to take, being 18th man, because it means you are that close, but you know you are probably not going to play – but it is good to be in the squad.”

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Leeds Rhinos' Alex Sutcliffe, right, attempts to stop St Helens' Tommy Makinson from scoring. Picture: Martin Rickett/PA Wire.

Had any of the 17 broken down in last Sunday’s warm-up, Sutcliffe would have been drafted in.

“My prep’ on the weekend was prepping to play,” he added. “I warmed up exactly as if I was going to play.

“It is good experience, you are in the squad and you have got to give something, whether that’s morale or a bit of energy – you have to do something to help.

“I am sure any 18th man would do the same.”

Leeds Rhinos' Konrad Hurrell. Picture: Allan McKenzie/

Sutcliffe made his second start for Rhinos – and fourth appearance overall – in the 48-0 home thumping by St Helens two weeks ago.

That was his second game this year after a brief cameo off the bench in February’s win at Salford Red Devils.

The Saints game was an eventful afternoon for the 21-year-old who started in the left-centre, in place of the injured Konrad Hurrell, before switching into the second-row for the second half following an injury to Alex Mellor.

His involvement was brought to an early end by a head knock but, despite that – and the result – he reckons it was a good learning experience.

Harry Newman in action against Wigan Warriors. Picture: Bruce Rollinson.

“There’s no better game than to go up against the champions and the best team in the comp’,” he said.

“They are playing at a different level at the minute so it was a really good experience and a really good test for me.”

Sutcliffe made his Rhinos debut in 2017 and scored 16 tries in 18 games on dual-registration for Featherstone Rovers last season. Super League – and especially facing St Helens – is a step up, but he said: “I thought I went all right.

“I made a few errors, but I thought I held my own.”

Sutcliffe’s versatility is an asset and he said: “It’s a bit more tiring in the second-row, but the same really.

“I don’t mind playing back-row, I will play anywhere.

“He could put me at prop and I’ll play there. I just need to play, I want some minutes.”

Of which role suits him best, Sutcliffe added: “At the minute I probably see myself as a centre, but maybe in the future I will move into the back-row.

“I reckon if I want to play back-row in Super League I’ll have to put a bit of size on, which I want to do anyway.”

Hurrell and England squad member Harry Newman, who is younger than Sutcliffe and made his debut in the same game, are team-mates Sutcliffe can learn from.

“They are great, they have been killing it,” he said.

“Whenever there’s a training session and you are up against them you are learning a lot from them. It kind of rubs off on you, what they do and you can add it into your game.”

Sutcliffe is likely to get more chances this year as injuries and short turnarounds take their toll, particularly in October and November.

“I am trying to push for a place every week,” he pledged.

“I think I have been fairly close, the first week [after coronavirus] I was in the squad, the second week I played and the third week I was 18th man.

“I am just pushing for a place and trying to be patient, bide my time and when the opportunity comes I’ll try and take it.”

Rhinos have no game this weekend and return to action against Salford, at Warrington, in eight days’ time.

Sutcliffe said: “We have had three really good teams, Huddersfield, Saints – the champions from last year – and Wigan.

“We are in a good place, we can bounce back definitely - training has been awesome.”

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