Like a fine whiskey, some things just take time to mature, and if there was ever a classic case of that in the NRL, it’s John Sutton.
It’s hardly a secret that under Michael Maguire, Sutton is playing by far his best football in the top grade. But just how long has it taken Sutton to fit in at NRL level? Thursday marks the ninth anniversary of his first grade debut at Suncorp Stadium. This is an amazing achievement considering the first few years of his NRL career were played in a team that struggled, winning just 12 out of his first 50 starts.
But that is exactly the mark of the man. For so long, people would write Sutton off as not consistent enough, not quick enough, not smart enough for the big time, or just a ‘confidence player’. Watch the man today and you’d wonder why he was ever doubted. The consistency, the speed, the strength, the smarts, and most certainly the confidence, it’s all there. It would be easy to simply say that his development has been a result of Maguire’s tutelage, but in reality, it’s been much more than that.
In one sense, Sutton is the great survivor of those years of struggle for Souths. He’s the only Rabbitohs remaining from that season, while Nathan Merritt (who debuted for Souths in 2002), spent that season and the next at Cronulla, before returning in 2006, while only David Fa’alogo, Ashley Harrison and Mark Minichiello remain in the NRL.
For the first 88 games of his NRL career, Sutton shifted between centre (where he made his debut), lock, second row, the bench, and his eventual home of five-eighth. Since that 88th first grade game in 2008, Sutton hasn’t started in any other position than five-eighth. It may have taken 88 first grade games, but he’d found his home.
Even at home though, he’s had his struggles. Until Maguire joined the club in 2012, the Rabbitohs failed to make the finals in that four years, the club plagued by inconsistency with Sutton and then halves partner Chris Sandow coming under heavy scrutiny. But when Sandow left the club after 2011, many Souths fans were left wondering how Sutton would react on the field, having paired with him on so many occasions. But the emergence of Adam Reynolds could not have been more timely, with his old head on young shoulders the perfect partner to Sutton’s strong running game.
The NSW team for Origin III is named this Sunday, and while incumbent James Maloney is almost certain to be retained, don’t be surprised to hear Sutton’s name in the mix for the utility role yet again. If he was to get his representative chance, it would complete one of the great stories of NRL maturity. The career of John Sutton proves that if you work hard enough, you can succeed in the greatest game of all.
Jim Beam Smooth Move of the Week
Tim Simona featured in this segment only a matter of weeks ago, and he was the focal point of a try-of-the-year candidate last weekend, when he picked up a loose ball in his in-goal area, beat Sisa Waqa on the outside and raced 60m downfield. He then cut inside and offloaded the ball to Benji Marshall, who skipped across field, handed it off to skipper Robbie Farah. Farah then turned the ball inside to Blake Ayshford, who used the conditions perfectly, to slide over the line from 5m out.