Durkin: Astonishing Sutton deserves to be celebrated
IT SAYS much about John Sutton that his Rabbitohs teammates want to play in a rather insignificant trial against the Panthers at suburban Redfern Oval tonight.
Few NRL clubs trot out their big guns this early.
Traditionally the big names have just one run together before the season kicks off - two at the most.
But while this is one of those "necessity" matches to blow out some cobwebs and give new coach Wayne Bennett a glimpse of the talent depth coming through the South Sydney ranks, the trial against the Panthers has been granted extra special status.
It is a "celebration" match to honour Sutton, the only man to play 300 NRL games in the cardinal and myrtle colours of the famous club.
NRL clubs are not permitted to stage testimonial matches - from which players receive a "bonus" payment - during the competition rounds.
And in view of the public resentment when million-dollar men Johnathan Thurston and Cameron Smith were granted a testimonial match in Brisbane last preseason, this has been prudently tagged a celebration.
To quote Steve Gillis, Sutton's manager: "If the crowd is poor, he won't get a cent."
But that's not the point. The fact this rather unremarkable player is to be the toast of one of the two remaining NRL foundation clubs is what's significant.
John Sutton has never been a "gun".
Despite his 309 NRL games spread over 15 seasons, Sutton's only rep games were one for the Prime Minister's XIII in 2005, and two for City Origin.
He was once 18th man for the NSW Blues, but history will count that as nothing.
No doubt his greatest moment was captaining the Rabbitohs to the NRL premiership in 2014, the club's first in 43 years. He was then unceremoniously dumped as skipper the following season.
And he was sacked for the only off-field indiscretion in his long and largely undecorated career. On the club's 2015 pre-season camp in Arizona, an intoxicated Sutton was arrested in a bar for disorderly conduct.
But for a guy who is a member of the famed Bra Boys, a Sydney surf gang with alleged links to violence, organised crime and community activism, Sutton has attracted scant negative publicity.
In fact, compared to some of the atrocities from his peers thispast off-season, John Sutton is an absolute angel.
That he has outlasted Souths legends Bob McCarthy, John Sattler, George Piggins and Eric Simms on the games-played leaderboard at Redfern is not just astonishing, it also underlines his passion for the club as well as his resilience and his talent.
Of the 34 players to join the elite NRL 300 brotherhood, Sutton is one of only 10 to have achieved the feat with one club. And he's one of two in that elite group to have not pulled on an Origin or Test jumper.
Put simply, he is a bread-and-butter player - the kind every club loves to have in their team.
And that's why his mates want to play alongside him tonight.