Rabbitohs back-rower John Sutton.

John Sutton's first rugby league meeting was over a case of Crown Lager.

South Sydney's longest and most loyal servant was locked in by the time it was polished off.

Through 16 years and a cardinal and myrtle record 329 games since, only one other club was afforded a face-to-face sit down with the Rabbitohs' favourite son.

And they didn't crack a second meeting.

"We had one meeting with the Storm before Sutto played first grade, but it didn't get pursued any further," Sutton's long-time agent Steve Gillis told NRL.com.

"And I'd say that was out of courtesy because his career hadn't taken off. He would've been maybe 18.

"Other clubs have come with other offers, but we've never met with anyone since."

John Sutton celebrates the Bunnies' 2014 premiership.
John Sutton celebrates the Bunnies' 2014 premiership. ©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

When Rabbitohs football manager Shane Richardson and Gillis turned up at the Sutton household a rugby league lifetime ago, with a box of beer to sweeten the deal, John Sutton snr insisted no-one leave until the case was done.

Richardson had to cancel his dinner plans. In turn he signed the teenager Souths ended up rebuilding around.

From three wooden spoons between 2003 and 2006, to the historic premiership trophy held aloft by that same Maroubra local within a decade.

In the same Redfern Town Hall where the foundation club was formed in 1908, Sutton announced his retirement, leaving behind a legacy no rival club could buy.

"In John's case the word loyalty just sums him up," Richardson said.

"When [Rabitohs chairman] Nick Pappas and I got involved in 2004 to try and get this club back to the greatness it [enjoyed] in the past, we didn't have many players that were going to lead us in the future.

"One of them was John Sutton. I've said it many times, he had many opportunities then, a lot of opportunities since to leave this club.

"But he chose not to leave this club. I think that's a tribute to John and also his family.

"In the past we haven't really been able to do the right thing by players. People will always write the stories about Bobby McCarthy, John Sattler and Mario Fenech never wanting to leave the club, but we were never in the financial situation to be able to retain them.

"Today is a signature story about us being able to do that as a club."

Sutton has often been pressed on those chances to take more money elsewhere, and just has often responds that his mum Elena "would kill me if I left".

The larrikin she used to drag out of the Maroubra Bay Hotel by the ear remains.

As Sutton kept his emotions in check, Wayne Bennett wisecracks about not having not having enough tattoos to be introduced to his Bra Boy mates.

Over time Sutton though has grown into a club legend, leading the fallen powerhouse's rise as much as riding it.

Bob McCarthy with modern-day Rabbitohs back-rower John Sutton.
Bob McCarthy with modern-day Rabbitohs back-rower John Sutton. ©NRL Photos

"It's been a honour to play for the club," Sutton said. "If it wasn't for mum and dad I probably wouldn't be here. I owe them a lot."

Asked about the evolution of the club since arriving at Redfern 16 years ago, Sutton guffaws.

"It's totally different. This side now should always be pressing for the top.

"Back then when I first came into the team I was pretty happy just to be playing first grade.

"To be honest I wasn't really concerned if we won or lost because I was only a young bloke and we were also at the bottom of the ladder. But now it's a totally different attitude."

Rightly so with Bennett commanding a roster capable of claiming the lot in 2019, Sutton kept returning to the "work that still needs to be done" amid the warm and fuzzy tributes.

In turn NRL boss Todd Greenberg was on hand to present Sutton with a commemorative ring held over from last year's 300-game celebrations for the 34-year-old.

Greenberg made special mention of the fact that of the 9500 first-graders since 1908, less than 40 have cracked the triple ton.

And of that only 14, Sutton being front and centre, have done so at one club.

"Been wondering where this has been," Sutton quipped of his ring. " … Stoked."

John Sutton. The larrikin that became a club legend, signed all those years ago over a case of beer.