2017 has been much better for Leeds. The Rhinos currently sit 4th in the league, equal on points with 3rd placed Salford, and a big part of the turnaround in fortunes at Headingley has been down to the return to form of Australian forward Adam Cuthbertson. The Leeds number 10 has been more like the player we saw in his debut year in 2015, and the stats show just how much of an impact he is having.
Cuthbertson, like the vast majority of the Leeds players, was poor in 2016. After such an impressive first season in Super League, ‘Cuthbo’ struggled to maintain those levels in his second year, with his offloads, tries, metres made and ball carries all down in numbers. Part of this was down to injuries, a lack of fitness and him being part of an underperforming team, but the loss of his attacking threat hurt Leeds, who went on to finish the Super League regular rounds as the worst attackers- scoring just 69 tries. The ex-Newcastle Knights man appeared to playing a totally different game compared to what had worked so well for him the previous year, and it definitely did not suit him.
This season, however, has been very different. His statistics are on course to be around the same as 2015 and what we are seeing on the field reflects that, with Cuthbertson playing well and directly influencing games once again. It is no coincidence that when he is on his game the Rhinos are more menacing, and Leeds have certainly benefitted from his fine displays this season, scoring the second most amount of tries in Super League (56)- a good number of which have come off the back of a Cuthbertson carry. It is fair to say that Cuthbertson is the platform for a lot of his sides offensive moves.
The way that he has been used in games has changed from last year- which may be the reason why his performances have improved so much. Cuthbertson has been ‘freed up’, meaning he has been allowed to be more involved in attacking moves and more creative with the ball in hand, whereas last season he was used as more of a ‘traditional prop’ who just had to run the ball, make metres and take the tackle. This change suits the Australian as a player. We have heard Cuthbertson be described many times as a ‘half in a props body’ as he is so skilful, unpredictable and effective as a ‘playmaker’, so being able to try and make things happen is what he needs to be doing.
Having a bigger role in the attacking system has also had a positive effect on his attacking numbers too. The forward has recorded 5 tries so far, already 3 more than his final tally last season, and has a good chance of matching or even eclipsing the 8 tries he scored two years ago. Through Cuthbertson having the ball in hand, supporting the runners or just simply being around the ruck, the chances of him producing a bit of magic to set a team-mate up, which he has done 3 times this campaign, or getting over the line for a try himself have increased significantly from last year when, for one reason or another, he wasn’t getting into the right positions.
The way he has played over the first half of the season has instilled a lot of confidence into Cuthbertson, who seems to be enjoying his rugby again and getting back to somewhere near his best. This is shown in the stats, which suggest that when Cuthbertson is on form, he is happier to receive the ball. In 2016, he made 279 carries in 20 Super League appearances, whereas this year he has already made 226 in 13 league appearances. That works out at around 17 carries per game (making 6.94 metres with each one on average), so you would expect that he will surpass his total number of carries from last season in the next 3 or 4 games. This may be because he has more belief in himself and his potential to create chances on the back of his good work up until this point, but whatever it is, a confident Adam Cuthbertson is a dangerous Adam Cuthbertson, and that is enough to cause any defence to worry.
It is not just going forwards where Cuthbertson has improved, but his defensive effort is on the up too. He has completed 422 tackles at an average of 32 each game, and is just 59 tackles behind the current top tackler and fellow Rhino Matt Parcell. Again, if we compare that to last season, when he made 498 tackles in 20 games at an average of 24 each game, you can see that his contribution in this department is much higher. Defence isn’t something that people usually associate with Cuthbertson due to what he can do going the other way, but he does put in a good shift when it comes to stopping his opponents, further showing just how much of an asset he is to Brian McDermott’s side.
There are a number of reasons why Cuthbertson’s form may have taken a turn for the better. One of those is the return to the ‘off the cuff’ way of playing that was so successful for Leeds in their treble winning year. The Rhinos have gone back to that this year after using more of a structured game that didn’t work with the players they have, but since reverting back to their current style what we have seen has been more like a Leeds team. Because of that, Cuthbertson has been able to play his ‘natural’ game of offloading to keep the ball alive and create ‘second phase’ plays, rather than being used a ‘battering ram’ type forward which is not really within his skillset.
Another factor that has definitely played a part is Cuthbertson getting on top of his fitness. By his own admission, he was slightly overweight throughout 2016 which prevented him from playing as big of a part as he did the previous year and producing anywhere near the levels of performance. For the current season, Cuthbertson made sure he was in a good place physically so he could hit the ground running, and he is reaping the rewards of that now.
One other thing that shouldn’t be over looked is the fact that Cuthbertson is now playing with a high quality, settled hooker on a regular basis. The afore mentioned Matt Parcell has been one of the signings of the season and has quickly built up a good understanding with Cuthbertson, which is evident from the link up play between the two. In 2016, Beau Falloon never got going at Leeds and James Segeyaro was only at the club for a short spell, so there was not really an opportunity for a relationship to develop between himself and his number nine, but the signs so far point towards Parcell and Cuthbertson having the same sort of productive understanding as the forward had with Paul Aiton when the now Catalans man was at the Rhinos.
Cuthbertson’s efforts thus far this season have been enjoyable to watch, and has been arguably the best prop in Super League, but that depends on who you ask. Either way, he has been one of the star men in a much-improved Leeds Rhinos side, and if they do go on to achieve anything this season, then you can be assured that Cuthbertson will have played a large part in it.
(Stats via rugby-league.com)