Sutton Rises

BY DAN

The Canberra Raiders got a substantial boost when it was revealed by the Daily Telegraph that Ryan Sutton would be available to play against the Parramatta Eels this week.

This is so important because the Raiders are also likely to reveal they will be without Adam Elliott, who has suffered what sounds like an incredibly damaging and painful pelvis injury. Elliott had been a point of difference in the Canberra pack, providing important agility, endurance and skill through the middle third. He’d been an substantial part of the Milk’s success.

Without him, the solutions to fill those minutes had been unclear. The Raiders don’t really have a like-for-like replacement. We had pitched (and continue to do so) an expanded role for Corey Harawira-Naera, as we saw in the game against Melbourne. He brings the agility and pace (and a killer offload) that Elliott had brought. I argued against him starting, simply because he provides cover for the Raiders at so many positions. They would be able to use him for extended minutes off the bench at 13, but also to cover the edges as needed.

But that still left the issue of how to cover the starting minutes. Corey Horsburgh would be a good player to start at 13 against the Eels’ outstanding and massive pack. But that would weaken the bench rotation substantially. It would be a lot to ask for a player like Ata Mariota or Trey Mooney to play 20-30 minutes in a semi final when they’d played barely that amount between them in first grade. Adding to the fact neither had played for a few weeks, and it wasn’t an ideal situation.

But Ryan Sutton is apparently back.. He was theoretically out for the season after a terribly timed finger injury (dude’s injury timing is poor). Now, he’s been named on the extended bench, but we’ll be watching closely Thursday night to see if he’s still on the game day roster, and then even closer Friday evening when the starting 17 is named. I don’t want to say he’s definitely playing, but hooo boy does it feel like it.

Sutton would be a perfect fit. As a player he offers an impressive motor, solid defence, an honest carry, and the ability to paly that role linking the middle to the edge through an excellent passing game. He would be equally able to start at 13, or come off the bench, ensuring that the adjustment to Elliott missing wouldn’t ruin the Raiders bench rotations, and would retain some of the skills Elliott has – albeit in the aggregate between Horsburgh, Harawira-Naera and Sutton. While he may not have match fitness – he last played in round 22 i.e a good month ago- he’s always been one of the fittest middles the Raiders have (notably he struggled with full V’Landoball the least). The ask – somewhere around 30-40 minutes, either at the start of halves or off the bench – wouldn’t overwhelm Sutton.

It’s also very exciting for the SuttGod. After missing both the 2019 and 2020 finals with injury, it’s a nice departing gift for Sutton. Finally he finds his way to the field in a finals series. Finally a poorly timed late-season injury doesn’t rob him of the opportunity to contribute in the post-season. Go well Ryan.

It’s a lucky break for the Milk (much like the original issue with Elliott was the opposite). At this time of the year team’s are always struggling to paper over cracks. The Raiders would have loved to go into next week with an unchanged 1-17. But bringing along a resurrected Sutton is probably the next best thing.

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