Canberra got bad news for the second consecutive day, with word emerging that Ryan Sutton is set to sign a three year deal with Canterbury Bulldogs starting 2023. Update: this has now been confirmed by David Polkinghorne of the Canberra Times.
While this deal isn’t finalised, it’s a report worth giving credence too. As we noted in the off-season Sutton was pretty lukewarm about the chances of him staying in Canberra.
I really just want to concentrate on having a good preseason. You can really get distracted by that stuff. If the Raiders want to move or if other things are there, I don’t know, I’ve just got to make sure I concentrate on myself and what’s going on in the present rather than thinking about the futureSutton to the Canberra Times
The rumour had always been that he would be heading to Sydney. At the time we said it was worth paying attention to, and that Canberra would have to go the extra mile in order to keep Ryan. Well it seems that the Bulldogs have gone further.
This is undoubtedly a good thing for Sutton, at least in the short term. At 26 he’s entering the age that middle forwards will be most productive (per this work from The Rugby League Eye Test). If Canterbury are paying big coin to him then this is the best time for him personally to cash in. If it also means he gets to make a lifestyle move to Sydney that was part of his personal plan, then more power to him. It’s a move that hasn’t worked out for everyone joining the Bulldogs recently (hello Nik) but we wish him nothing but the best.
While I doubt it was a surprise for the club (given I knew about the rumours, and given his statement above), it’s still a loss for Canberra. Sticky had been a vocal supporter in the past of his work ethic both off and on the field. We’ve said before that Sutton’s engine, and his passing through the middle, make him an invaluable V’Landysball forward. He’s never been the most powerful carry (and we noted his post contact metres were as low as any Milk middle in 2021), but the appeal of him wasn’t what his carry was with the first minute, but rather that it kept it’s power through the back end of his minutes (though that’s not to say he wasn’t worn out by the Raiders use of him in 2021). His tackle rate was the same as forwards playing half as many minutes as him. Well used he’d be an asset to any club.
There’s likely a calculus to this for Canberra. Given how Canterbury have been shifting and moving their roster of the last year or so, it’s not ridiculous to think that the Bulldogs were willing to part with more money than Canberra could afford. There’s other roster challenges for the Milk – such as keeping Corey Harawira-Naera and Corey Horsburgh – that need to be addressed immediately. They’re both off contract at the end of this year. Young stars like Xavier Savage, Harley Smith-Shields and Harry Rushton can negotiate deals for 2024 from 1 November this year. It’s possible that the Raiders simply had to keep their cash in hand to make sure they could keep other players.
Indeed perhaps an extension of this was a key factor for the extent to which the Raiders could keep him. In recent weeks Harry Rushton has shown much of the development we’ve been hoping to see of him. He too is a handy passer through the middle, and seems to project to be a more agile version of Sutton. With Trey Mooney also coming through and probably best suited to playing in the middle, there’s not the impetus on Canberra to pay overs for Sutton. I don’t think this was an either/or with Horsburgh – I still think Redcliffe will come knocking for him – but if it was it’s because the Red Horse is likely cheaper than Sutton.
The Raiders have been cultivating a host of middle forwards who can do a job (and maybe the same job Sutton does). You can’t keep them all. But that doesn’t mean that when one leaves it doesn’t hurt, particularly when they are of the quality of Ryan. We wish him luck.
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