As we look forward to celebrating John Sutton’s Testimonial Match this Saturday 23 February at Return to Redfern against the Penrith Panthers, we look back at the stages of Sutto’s career that made the man we know and love today.
There are many words to describe John Sutton, but leader is the one that fits best.
Whether or not the man himself believes it, Sutton has been a leader of the Club even before he was given a captaincy role in 2012, acting as the team's chief playmaker for a number of seasons before the (c) appeared next to his name in the team list.
According to former teammate and good friend, Beau Champion, the responsibilities he took and upheld through the early part of his career only helped to mould the man he is today.
“He naturally developed a leadership role because of how prominent he was in the team,” said Champion.
“I think his leadership grew towards the middle of his career and I think he excelled once he took those responsibilities on board and once he was comfortable with the position, his football flourished.
“It helped everyone around him and it helped us as a Club.”
One thing that Champion cited when it came to Sutton’s leadership skills was the correlation between his actions off the field, and the output on it.
“I think once he was settled with his family and children there was a big change in the mentality of his football and leadership,” Champion said.
“He always trained hard and was always a smart individual on the field, but I just think once he settled off the field it sort of transitioned onto his on-field performance.
“He always found a way to lead us to win a big game when we needed it, and that always gave us confidence he could do it. It was usually against strong opposition at a time when we’d win against Melbourne or Brisbane and when we needed someone to stand up he’d lead the way.
“I always knew he had the ability and talent to lead the team to a Premiership at the back of my mind. I think the positional change to the back row at the time helped him and the team a lot and gave the side four points of attack."
Another former teammate, Scott Geddes, who saw Sutton progress in his NRL career first-hand, was full of praise for him becoming a role model not only on the field, but in the community and the Club itself.
“I can’t pinpoint it but there was just a switch in the middle of his career,” Geddes recounted.
“All of a sudden he realised that for him to go that extra mile and keep going, he needed to lead by example as a player around the Club.
“When he starts talking about footy he has that process where he knows the game so well, and to also play over 300 games is just incredible.
“I don’t think there’s any one big moment that can define him, but when the Club won the Grand Final and seeing him holding up the trophy was pretty inspirational to see.”
After a training session on Wednesday morning, as the players left the soggy Redfern turf, we posed the question to some of the current senior players of the squad - What makes John Sutton such a good leader?
Sam Burgess, another leader of the Club, was direct when it came to Sutton’s leadership.
“He comes into training every day and he’s probably one of the most enthusiastic about work - he’s the eldest player in the squad and yet he’s still so full of energy. He leads by example and does his job every day.”
Sam’s brother Thomas intervened, saying “He just gets straight to the point and he’s very direct. You know where you stand with him and there’s no mucking about.”
Young gun Cameron Murray had plenty of praise for Sutton, acknowledging him as a role model.
“He knows the Club inside and out and he’s the heart and soul of South Sydney, so even his presence just around the Club makes him a good leader," Murray said.
“He’s a quiet achiever - he doesn’t say a lot but he leads by his actions and he’s the first to tell you honestly if you’re not up to standard and if you’re not buying into the culture.
“He works in silence and he never complains and he is one of those guys that is fantastic to be around and it’s a pleasure to play alongside him.”
Dane Gagai, who arrived at the Club last season, after playing at a number of teams and multiple representative sides, was adamant that Sutton held a position above any other teammate he had played alongside.
“Just for the amount of time he’s been playing this game, I don’t think I’ve met anyone as competitive. He leads by example and doesn’t like losing and he’s very experienced and that’s what makes him such a great leader.”
Damien Cook pointed out an admiration for the longevity of Sutton’s career, while Adam Reynolds was grateful for the 309-gamer’s actions as a role model during his formative years in the top grade.
“What makes John Sutton such a good leader is that he has done so many preseasons already but he doesn’t complain about anything. He just gets the job done even after all this time and he leads the way with his actions,” said Cook.
“I’d say his actions more than anything else,” Reynolds explained.
“When he talks, everyone listens, but he goes about his business and leads through those actions. If you ask something from him he’s never fussed about doing it.
“He’s always there to stick his hand up through the tough times and guide people through them with him. I have a lot of respect for him in that sense, he led me through first-grade in my first few years when he was at five-eighth and I was playing halfback, so I can’t give him enough praise.”
When speaking of South Sydney's legends and leaders, the likes of Jack Rayner, John Sattler and Mario Fenech come to mind.
Now the name John Sutton can be included too.