Sutton on the dock of the bay

The worth of Greg Inglis to a team is almost inestimable. But it can be measured in some way by his absence. Ever since he pinged his knee, the Rabbitohs’ performances have lost the fluency and spark we had come to expect. That in itself should come as no surprise, because any team with him in it tends to organise itself around his involvement. It’s a fact of life.

Sutto fangin' it upfield

Sutto fangin’ it upfield

Measuring John Sutton’s absence is a little more nuanced, and hasn’t attracted the same kind of media attention as Inglis. This is a pity, because he has been an instrumental part of the Rabbitohs’ success, and one of the keys to unlocking the finishing quality of their outside backs.

There are many reasons for this. He has exceptional size and strength and the ability to beat defenders with brute force. He is very much unlike other 5/8s in this respect, in much the same way he differentiates himself within this cohort with his solid defence.

Further, he has good peripheral vision and has a quality pass (which also comes in handy in a game of euchre). In short, he covers all the basics well.

His biggest attribute, however, is his ability to keep the defence in two minds by constantly engaging them in attack. For the Rabbitohs, they are running second in total halves runs as you can see below (the other teams at the top would not surprise you either, I’d imagine):Total Halves Runs

As we saw in Reynolds, the Rascally Running Rabbit, these numbers are not being produced by him, even though he has been testing (and widening) his boundaries in the running area.

Nope, they are attributable to John Sutton, the most attacking 5/8 in the NRL (as measured by runs, not glassings). The stats per match are shown below:Five Eighth Runs

It’s not difficult to appreciate how the Rabbitohs organise their game. Not only do they have the battering rams in the middle of the park and on the edges (a rare advantage), but they then have John Sutton bearing down on a retreating defence at pace. When he’s he’s not taking on the line himself and making further significant headway, he’s throwing passes to the outside backs (that usually include Inglis).

The point is, he will be missing for at least two weeks, perhaps more, and therefore for matches against the Storm and Manly. I’m not sure how many people realise how disruptive this will be to their game. They certainly can’t replicate the South Sydney brand with such a short preparation, no matter how promising Luke Keary is, and it would be asking too much of a returning Inglis should that even occur.

Given his importance to the side in the finals and the fact that the Storm and Manly require three more wins than the Rabbitohs in the final five rounds, I wouldn’t be rushing Inglis back for this game. He will be needed against Manly and the Doggies, and who knows, maybe not at fullback while Sutton is absent … just throwin’ it out there.

In the meantime, the Storm won’t be confronted by a ball runner of Sutton’s stature and frequency (I’m sure Finchy is pleased), and are likely to place intense pressure on Keary. He can’t play the Sutton game, and would be foolish to try. The upside for the Storm is that, knowing this, they will be better organised in defence than OJ Simpson.

What I would therefore be expecting from the Rabbitohs is a heavy focus on the middle of the park, almost to the point of an extreme forward-centric game plan, supplemented by deep kicking and building pressure at the Storm end of the field. The Bunnies already score a larger than average proportion of tries from kicks, and this game will gravitate toward that too.

They are going to have to be ferocious, particularly with Cameron Smith, while shutting down the inside ball the Storm are famous are for. If Billy Slater can avoid Sam Burgess’ shoulder, or George Burgess’ groin, there will be hell to pay up the middle and on the scoreboard. Basically, they need to take a leaf out of the Warriors’ book, a team who always challenges the Storm.

The Rabbitohs can win this match, but they are going to have to play the game from a different angle, and get it right quickly.

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