John Semesi ‘Sutto’ Sutton became not only South Sydney’s most capped first grader, he captained the team in the memorable 2014 Grand Final triumph to lead the club to its 21st premiership. The Rabbitohs were once again’ the ‘Pride of the League’.
Born on 5 November 1984, John is of Australian and Rotuman (now part of Fiji) heritage, and played a record 336 first grade games scoring 68 tries, 7 goals and kicking one field goal.
A keen surfer and member of the Maroubra 'Bra Boys', Sutton played his junior football firstly with La Perouse at the age of five, then Coogee-Randwick Wombats before joining Kensington United Dragons. He won ten straight junior premierships.
He attended Marcellin College Randwick, JJ Cahill High School and South Sydney High School before being signed by the Rabbitohs. John also completed a Level One Strength and Conditioning course.
John Sutton Career Highlights
Graded by Souths in 2002, he played in the Under 20s until making his first grade debut on Sunday 4 July 2004 in the Round 17 clash against the Brisbane Broncos at Suncorp Stadium.
‘It was such a thrill to be seIected for first grade at the age of 19, but we lost the game 48-28," Sutton said.
"I actually played in the centres that day and scored a try.
In 2005 he won the Supporters’ Choice Award, the Coaches Award and has won the George Piggins Medal for Best and Fairest three times – 2009, 2012 and 2013.
But his biggest thrill was lifting the trophy after Souths had beaten Canterbury 30-6 in the 2014 Grand Final.
"I remember being on the stage and just after I did my thanks to everyone, I yelled out "let’s do this" before walking over to the team and then an almighty roar went up as I raised the trophy," Sutton said.
"What a moment! I played in the second-row that night, but I’ve also played a lot of five-eighth."
During the 2014 finals Sutton played his 250th first grade game against the old enemy Many-Warringah Sea Eagles. Souths raced to a 40-nil lead and there was still 20 minutes left. But they relaxed, and Manly posted four consecutive converted tries to make the full-time score 40-24. ‘Our coach Madge (Michael Maguire) wasn’t impressed with that – he gave us the biggest verbal spray you could ever imagine. I thought he was going to blow a fuse’. Michael Maguire once said ‘John’s knowledge of how a rugby league game operates is incredible, and was one of the reasons why he was made captain. He could see what was happening 3 or 4 plays ahead. He understood the ‘feel’ of a game’.
I didn’t really mind where I played, I loved playing for Souths and never considered leaving.John Sutton
He played under eight different coaches – Paul Langmack and Arthur Kitinas (2004), Shaun McRae (2005-06), Jason Taylor (2007-09), John Lang (2010-11), Michael Maguire (2012-17), Anthony Seibold (2018) and Wayne Bennett (2019, his retirement year).
"I learnt many things, as they all had their own style." Sutton said.
"Now I’m on the coaching staff and want to bring that knowledge to the club."
Sutton missed a fair chunk of 2007, due to a shoulder injury in the Round 8 loss 8-4 against the Broncos in Brisbane by attempting to dive on a ball over the line which would have been the match winner. In round one 2016 against the Roosters, he also suffered a pectoral injury during the 42-10 win at the Sydney Football Stadium.
He was ruled out for the season but made a good recovery and resumed playing in the round 15 loss 30-12 against Parramatta at ANZ Stadium.
Another highlight for John was in the premiership year 2014 when Souths defeated St. George-Illawarra Dragons 26-6 in round five on Saturday night 5 April at the SCG.
The game took him past Bob McCarthy’s club record of 211 first grade games. The milestones kept coming.
"When I reached 300 grade games the club held a special luncheon on Saturday 17 June 2017 at Souths Juniors to celebrate the occasion," Sutton said.
"My parents John and Elena came too – they have been the biggest influence on my playing career.
"It was just a great day, with many of my teammates, past players, officials, sponsors and Souths members present."
John was actually selected in the 2013 NSW State Of Origin squad but didn’t get to play – he was bracketed with Josh Reynolds but NSW selected Reynolds ahead of him.
He played one game for the Prime Minister’s XIII in 2005 and two games for City Origin in 2008-09 scoring one try.
"Souths fans are the best in the competition." - Sutton
On Thursday 19 July the club unveiled a mural at Kensington Oval to recognise their longest serving player, just two days before his 300th first grade game in the 22-6 loss against Wests Tigers at ANZ Stadium.
It was an away game for Souths. One of the keynote speakers at the mural ceremony was Rabbitohs’ Chairman Nick Pappas, who said "Today’s a great day for Sutto and his family because John’s story will be interwoven into the history of the Rabbitohs."
"John, in may ways your career has reflected the trajectory and path the club has followed since 2004, we started together with a few bumps on the way and we got through them together, both the club and you, and we got to the pinnacle in 2014 when you held the trophy aloft".
On Wednesday 14 August Souths held a press conference where John announced he will be retiring at season’s end.
Then on Friday 15 November the club arranged a tribute night for John Sutton, called the ‘Let’s Do This’ dinner. It was held at the Juniors at the Junction club on Anzac Parade, Maroubra.
I’ve played more games for Souths than anyone else and that is an incredible honour for me and my family, who have been a great support throughout my journey.John Sutton
John is married to his childhood sweetheart Stacey and they have two children.