Rabbitohs five-eighth John Sutton will play his 300th club game for the Rabbitohs this Friday night against the Gold Coast Titans which is a testament not only to the longevity of Sutton’s footballing abilities, but also to the stability built within the club over the past decade or more.
Sutton was graded with South Sydney in 2002 and went on to make his first grade debut in 2004, a time when the Club was re-establishing itself in the NRL following its exclusion in 2000 and 2001.
A talented player coming through the ranks, Sutton showed his wares early in his career and established himself as an NRL player immediately upon his selection in the top grade by former Rabbitohs Coach Arthur Kitinas, and with that he began attracting interest from opposition clubs for his services.
Despite being off contract a number of times during his career, Sutton always chose to stay with the Rabbitohs despite the interest of other clubs, which speaks volumes for the character of Sutton himself but also of the stability within the Club.
“When John first came through into first grade, he wasn’t playing in the best South Sydney sides of all time,” Rabbitohs General Manager of Football Shane Richardson said.
“He always attracted interest from other clubs but he has always said that he has never wanted to play for anyone else.
“He’s a South Sydney man through-and-through, his whole family are red and green, and he has shown tremendous loyalty to stick with this club, going on to captain the side to our 21st premiership in 2014.”
Sutton’s appearance record tops a list of players that also bled red and green for the Rabbitohs, but due to the instability of the club over many decades, were never able to reach the heights that Sutton has in terms of games for Souths.
Sutton plays club game 300 this Friday, having broken the record of Craig Coleman who played 297 games for the Club before switching to the Gold Coast and then Western Suburbs to finish his career.
Third on the list of all-time appearances for Souths is the indomitable Mario Fenech who played 248 games in the red and green, who, like Coleman, was also forced to leave the club due to the financial instability of the early ‘90s. Fenech moved on to play for North Sydney and the South Queensland Crushers, but is renowned for his fearless leadership of the cardinal and myrtle.
Next on the list is club stalwart George Piggins who played 245 times for Souths over 15 seasons, followed by the Club’s all-time leading try scorer, Nathan Merritt, on 239 games, who also left the club early in his career to join Cronulla, only to return in 2006 when things were turning around off the field for the Rabbitohs.
“I think a factor in John’s milestone; and the fact that some of the Club’s great players like ‘Tugger’, like Mario, like Gary Stevens and Bob McCarthy who had to go to Canterbury, like Ron Coote going to the Roosters, and even a Rugby League Immortal in Clive Churchill who had to go to Queensland; these players not reaching the number of games John has speaks directly to the increased stability, both financially and in terms of management, that we have seen over the past decade or so at South Sydney, stability that wasn’t there for decades,” Mr Richardson said.
“John started his football career during a difficult period for the Club both on and off the field, but the introduction of a more stable management structure and the change in the ownership and investment model has meant players can be assured that when they play for Souths they are coming to a well-run club that has their best interests at heart and they know they are going to be paid every month so they can provide for their family and their future.
“The facilities and the support that have been put in place over the past 13 or 14 years have meant that players like John, like Adam Reynolds, like Jason Clark, like Nathan Merritt, have been able to follow their dreams of representing their club and they haven’t had to worry about whether the club will be there next week or not.
“That’s not a situation that some of the Club’s legends like the ones we mentioned earlier were able to enjoy.
“Mario, Tugger, Bob, Gary, Ron, Clive and many others all had to leave Souths because Souths couldn’t pay them, or wouldn’t pay them what other clubs were able to. The Club was unstable and no one could blame a player for wanting to be at a stable club that they know is going to look after them, and in turn their family, so they can play their best football.
“With recruitment and retention you’re always making decisions on players about what is best for the Club and I’m absolutely certain that the administrators of those times would have fought tooth and nail to keep those guys in our colours for their whole careers, but that wasn’t achievable at the time.
“Now, with the way the owners, and I include our Members as one of our key ownership groups, have invested into this club over the past decade, coupled with the quality of our Board and the hard work put in by the Directors, with the support of our sponsors and corporate partners, the management structures that are in place as well as the coaching and support structures that bring out the best in the players, it allows players like John to build a stunning career at this Club and gives them a chance to reach the heights which he has.
“And it doesn’t stop now. We’re planning for the future with the establishment of the Community High Performance Centre at Heffron Park, we’re continually reassessing our structures to make this the best environment for players, coaches and staff to work in to achieve the Club’s goals, and to give us all the best chance of being successful. We’re trying to leave a legacy so that we can become the Club our Members want, and sustain that level successful over a long period of time.
“We’re all so proud of what John has achieved. He will truly be remembered as one of the greats of this Club. To play 300 games for one club is remarkable, a truly great achievement for the kid from Maroubra, and we can’t wait for Friday’s game.”
Tickets for the Rabbitohs vs Titans game are available from www.ticketek.com.au/rabbitohs or by calling 132 849.