Big weekend for Sutton referee trio
Standing in the heat of battle as the only man of authority between two teams proudly representing their respective nations on Friday night, referee Gerard Sutton will take comfort in the knowledge that his brother has got his back.
The Sutton brothers, Gerard, Bernard and Chris, create a unique piece of history this weekend as each serves as a match official in an international fixture. Gerard is the sole referee in Friday night's Test between Australia and New Zealand at Suncorp Stadium, Bernard is acting as a video referee on Friday and also in Saturday's Fiji v Papua New Guinea Test for which Chris is one of the touch judges.
As Gerard is the standby referee for that same match, there is the possibility that all three brothers from Coonabarabran in north-west New South Wales could officiate in the same international fixture.
It's a remarkable achievement and Gerard said that rather than worrying about what little brother Bernard may or not decide in the video referees' box at a crucial point in the game, there is a confidence in how well they know each other's games.
"He knows my game probably better than I do and me as a person so he can look at me on the field and through my body language know where I'm at and how I'm tracking," Gerard told NRL.com just hours before kick-off.
"I trust his perspective on where the game is so the feedback that he provides to me is a real reassurance and I like working with him and I know exactly what he's thinking and he knows where I'm at.
"There's that thing about family too where you can just be frank with each other and tell each other where you think you're wrong and what you're not doing right and it doesn't affect the relationship.
"Refereeing's a really tough game and unless you're in it it's probably hard to understand the pressures that go with it, but having a few brothers that are in it you've got a pretty good support network there who know where you're at.
"They're significant milestones for you anyway but to do it with your brothers, to be able to share the experience makes it a bit more special knowing where each of have come from and what the journey's been like."
And it's not as if the Sutton boys always see eye to eye – Gerard once sent Chris off in an under-10s game in Coonabarabran for consecutive high shots on an opposition player. "He was a fiery little fella and he still reckons he was hardly done by," Gerard recalls. "Mum and Dad just thought it was an extension of everything that went on at home in the backyard and not too different from other disputes we had."
They each officiated in same capacity on grand final day last year and Gerard credits the influence of their father Harold, himself a long-time referee in Group 4 in the Country Rugby League, for instilling the fortitude needed to control a highly pressurised game of rugby league.
"I saw it first-hand in bush footy games that he refereed, he would often be in situations where he'd cop a bit of abuse or be on the receiving end and if he believed he was right he would never back down from it, no matter who or what was railing against him," said Sutton, who was the man credited for making the right calls in the highly controversial Round 5 clash between South Sydney and Canterbury.
"He would stand his ground and just the importance of standing for something. I saw that first-hand in a number of different situations and I suppose that's the thing, to stand your ground and be strong and not worry about external criticism or all the other stuff that comes with it.
"If you believe what you're doing is right you've just got to stick to the task, whether you're at No.1 Oval in Coonabarabran or at Suncorp Stadium."