Salford Red Devils v Leeds Rhinos: Versatile Liam Sutcliffe has found a position that suits
LEEDS RHINOS’ Liam Sutcliffe is arguably the most versatile player in Betfred Super League, but may finally have found a home in the second-row.
Sutcliffe has started there in both Rhinos’ opening games this season, impressing in the back-to-back defeats at Warrington Wolves and Wigan Warriors.
Last year he played 21 times, starting at full-back, left-and right-centre, stand-off, scrum-half and once in the second-row and his form was rewarded with an England Test call-up against France and a place on the Knights’ tour to Papua New Guinea.
The 24-year-old has made 141 senior appearances since his debut six years ago – scoring 47 tries, 200 goals and a drop goal – without nailing down a settled position.
However, Rhinos’ new coach Dave Furner was a back-rower in his playing days and believes Sutcliffe has the attributes to build a long-term career in the pack.
It is a role which has suited Sutcliffe so far this year and the Hunslet Warriors product reckons he will get better with more games under his belt.
“It’s good, I am just getting used to it,” he said.
“It is a lot more physical than what I’ve been used to in the past few seasons and it’s that side I am trying to get used to.
“I think there’s a lot more work, you get a lot more defence your way.
“I am used to doing probably 20 tackles a game and I am doing a fair bit more than that now so it’s just that kind of aspect to the game.”
Sutcliffe is relishing the extra involvement and added: “I want to get more games under my belt and really try and improve at that role and get a lot better as the season goes on.
“I think I’ve done all right but there’s things I still need to work on and I am still learning.
“It is early days in the season and I have still got plenty of time for that.”
Asked if this could be the position he finally settles into, Sutcliffe conceded: “I am not too sure.
“For now, yes – I have trained there all pre-season and I do like the role.
“I’ve talked to Dave and he says he does see me there so I am more than happy with that.”
The second-row is arguably the most competitive position in Rhinos’ squad.
Brett Ferres has started alongside Sutcliffe in the two games so far with Stevie Ward at loose-forward and James Donaldson on the bench.
Leeds also have veterans Carl Ablett – who is recovering from surgery on an ankle – and Jamie Jones-Buchanan waiting for their first appearance of the campaign.
“There’s a fair few back-rowers and I think that’s good for training and good for Dave,” Sutcliffe said.
“He is going to have a headache every week, hopefully.
“If we are putting the work in in training, then it is up to him what he does on a weekend.”
Rhinos will aim to make it third time lucky this year when they travel to early-season leaders Salford Red Devils tomorrow.
They have had a full week to prepare since the defeat at Wigan and Sutcliffe felt that was an improvement on their round one performance.
“We were still disappointed in the score and in certain things we did in the game,” he stressed.
“But it is early days and everyone’s still getting to know each other and things like that.
“Hopefully we can keep improving and come good.”
Salford have won both their opening games, at Huddersfield Giants and home to London Broncos.
Sutcliffe admitted: “It doesn’t get any easier, but that’s what you want.
“You always want to play in the big games and the big tests.
“We would have to go there sooner or later in the season anyway so it doesn’t really matter when we play them.
“We just have to go there and hopefully get a win.
“We’ve had a long week and looked at the review from last weekend and hopefully we’ll put a few things right.”
Of Salford, Sutcliffe said: “They have had a good start to the season and they’ll be really confident going into this week.
“When Jackson Hastings joined them last year he kind of turned their season around so I am sure he will be one of the players we have to look at.
“Results haven’t gone our way and we’re disappointed with that, but everyone is still confident about where we’ll go this season.”