Keep an eye on Sutton and Lyon

Nanjing Night Net

South Sydney are on a roll, and their five-eighth, John Sutton, is playing the best football of his career. Sutton is as talented as any player in the NRL. He is big, strong and extremely skilful. His greatest asset, however, is his ability to read the game. I have coached Sutton and, believe me, he knows the game of rugby league inside-out. He was born to play.

Manly, meanwhile, have surged back into form and premiership contention in recent weeks. The Sea Eagles have had a disrupted season due to injury with some of their best players sitting on the sidelines for extended periods. In these times, all clubs need strong leadership to get them through. Their skipper, Jamie Lyon, has been inspirational. Lyon is an unassuming captain who leads by example on the field. He is fast, agile and extremely skilful. Like Sutton, his greatest asset is his ability to read the game. I have played with Jamie Lyon and, like Sutton, he knows the game of rugby league inside-out. He, too, was born to play.

Sutton plays on Souths’ left side of the field, and Lyon on Manly’s right. Both teams have star players in numerous positions but the outcome of this left-edge versus right-edge battle will go a long way to determining the winner tonight in Gosford.

Stopping Sutton and his runners tonight will be a particularly difficult job for Lyon’s inside men, Daly Cherry-Evans and Glenn Stewart. When Sutton runs to the defensive line, he does so in a manner that puts the defenders under immediate pressure. Sutton knows exactly where to run.

Picture one is an example of a typical Sutton play. Sutton is running hard at the hole between defenders four and five, and has organised his support runner, Dave Taylor, to run at the hole between defenders three and four. In this situation, defender four, which is where Stewart will be defending tonight, has a tough decision to make. Because Sutton is such a big man, the logical thing for defender four to do is to hold his ground and tackle the five-eighth. However, defender four is aware that defender three will require help tackling the massive Taylor should Sutton pass the ball. The upshot here was that defender four drifted off Sutton to help defender three. Sutton reacted to this decision by holding the ball, and after palming off defender five, he scored a try himself. Manly halfback Cherry-Evans, will be in position three tonight and he’ll have plenty to worry about. One positive for Cherry-Evans, though, is that Taylor rarely runs off Sutton on Souths’ left edge. This role is predominantly filled by Rabbitohs back-rower Chris McQueen. McQueen doesn’t quite match Taylor’s physique but he is still big, strong and fast. For Manly to get this right, defender four, Glenn Stewart, must mark Sutton from the beginning of each play while defender three, Cherry-Evans, has to muscle-up on McQueen. It doesn’t end there for the Sea Eagles because once Sutton reads that he and McQueen are covered, he will pass the ball to his fullback, Nathan Merritt, sweeping around behind McQueen. This will create a whole new set of problems for defender two, Jamie Lyon, and his winger David Williams to handle. Good luck gents.

For the Sea Eagles, Lyon and Stewart have developed a great attacking combination. However, with Glenn Stewart out injured for much of this year, Lyon has often had to do it on his own. He has a great ability to find a way to score. It’s like a sixth sense. He knows when his team needs a try, and he leads from the front to make it happen.

When Manly played Newcastle four weeks ago, Lyon’s ability in this regard was never more evident. There was less than 20 minutes to go in the game, and Manly were down 22-0 as they received a drop-out from the Knights. To salvage an unlikely win Manly needed to score four tries in the remaining time. With this in mind, Lyon knew they had to score a try in the ensuing set, and he took it upon himself to ensure that happened.

Picture two is the lead-up to the try scored by Brent Kite that Lyon created. Manly fullback George Taufua carried the ball from the middle of the field across to the right side. Taufua then passed to Lyon, who headed back in-field along the line of the arrow. As Lyon got the ball he surveyed the Knights’ defensive line, and saw an opportunity near the goal posts. One of the Knights’ defenders had failed to move up with his teammates. Lyon accelerated back towards his own try line and across field about 20 metres to stay clear of the immediate defenders. He then straightened and powered through the hole on the inside of the lazy defender before flick-passing the ball to Kite, who scored.

Manly didn’t take Lyon’s lead in that game, and they went on to lose. But they sure have taken it since. Manly will go to Lyon when the pressure is on, and Souths will go to Sutton. There might not be much grass left on that side of the field come full-time.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.