South Sydney five-eighth John Sutton says he has well and truly moved on from his on-again, off-again State of Origin selection and is ready to help continue the Rabbitohs’ push for a first minor premiership since 1989.
One of two players called into the NSW squad as a possible replacement for injured utility Kurt Gidley, Sutton found himself embroiled in a bizarre situation in which it was wrongly announced that he had beaten Canterbury’s Josh Reynolds to the vacant bench spot. In fact, it was Reynolds who was called into the 17 – although as fate would have it he never made it onto the field anyway during the Blues’ 14-6 win in Game One.
Sent home in a cab to resume his duties with South Sydney, Sutton told NRL.com he was devastated at the time but has since put the disappointment behind him.
“I’m over all of that now,” he said. “When they told me that I wasn’t going to be in the side it was very disappointing to be honest, but pretty much straight after that I just put it all behind me and moved on.
“I’ve had a bit of time off since then (with last week’s bye) so it was good to have a bit of downtime. I’m looking forward to getting back into it this week and having a good game for Souths.”
While Reynolds has since admitted he had begun packing his bags to head home from NSW camp under the mistaken belief that it was Sutton who had been selected, Sutton himself had no idea about the mix-up.
“I didn’t know about that at all,” he explained. “I was actually doing physio at the time and Laurie came in and told me that I wasn’t in, so I pretty much knew straight away.
“Then I started getting messages from everyone saying ‘congratulations’. I was thinking ‘What do you mean? I didn’t make the team!’ So I had a bit of a laugh.”
Sutton might not have made the Blues squad in the end but there is no doubt he has played a key role in South Sydney’s surge up the NRL ladder in 2013. After 12 games he leads all five-eighths for both metres gained (1237 at 103 per game) and tackle-breaks (40) as well as contributing eight line-breaks, seven line-break assists and six try assists.
Asked if he felt he was in the best form of his career, Sutton replied: “To be honest, yeah probably. Week in, week out I’ve been pretty consistent with my form so I’m happy with the way things are going.
“I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that my game is very simple at the moment – running the ball, making my tackles which is what the coach wants me to do. The simpler the game is for me, the better I play, so I put it down to that.”
Sutton said the influence of halves partner Adam Reynolds over the past 18 months had also made a big difference.
“I think he has one of the best kicking games in the competition and he really takes the pressure off at the back end of sets getting those repeats and finding the ground,” he said. “That has really helped me out. But the team as a whole is going along good and are playing some pretty good footy. I’m really enjoying my time at Souths but we’re only at the halfway point so there is still a lot of work to do.”
A local junior, Sutton was just four years old the last time the Rabbitohs finished the regular season at the top of the ladder and has never found himself in this position at this time of the year during his 10 years in the NRL.
But he realises they can’t take anything for granted with Melbourne and the Roosters breathing down their neck – and is aware of the danger the fifth-ranked Titans will pose when they meet them at Barlow Park in Cairns on Sunday afternoon.
“It’s awesome to be where we are,” he said. “I’ve never been in this position but last year and this year it’s been great to see where we’ve been going. We’re in a really good position at the moment but like I said it’s only halfway through the season. We’ve got a lot of work to do and we need to keep doing what we’ve been doing.
“It’s going to be a big back end to the season but I’m looking forward to it.”