Nobody was more excited than Ryan Sutton when the Canberra Raiders announced they had signed George Williams for the upcoming season.
Not just because of his skills on the field and not just because he fills the void left by the departure of Aidan Sezer, but because the pair literally lived around the corner from each other as kids.
Their friendship stretches back 12 years when they bonded over their love of league, a passion which has seen them combine in lime green for 2020.
“I’ve always known George, we played against each other at school, we’ve got mutual friends, so I have always been mates with him,” Sutton said.
“So, from 11 or 12 years old I have known him for and see what he does on a field from a kid to now, he’s always been a special talent.
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“When he debuted, it was a year before me so it’s something you always want to strive for as a mate.
“He’s a real talent and not only has he done at a club level, but he’s done it internationally as well so he’s going to be a really good asset for the Raiders.”
Inseparable growing up, Williams has even taken up Sutton’s offer to stay with him during pre-season to help him acclimatise to his new club.
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“It’s made we’ve got six English members of the team, staff included, and to have somebody who used to live 20 seconds around the corner from you it’s pretty crazy," he said.
“Wigan is the smallest place in England but somehow we have got three of them in Canberra.
“You’ve got to pinch yourself sometimes, but we’re over here to do a job and we all know that.”
Sutton came to Australia last season keen to prove to those he can make it in the best competition in the world and made some inroads into his goal.
The 24-year-old played in 20 games last season, off the bench and in the run-on side, averaging 94 metres and 28 tackles a game.
With the competition for starting spots again sure to be tight, plus the emergence of Corey Horsburgh, Emre Guler, Hudson Young and JJ Collins, Sutton knows a slow start to the season could stall his momentum.
“I’m playing in a different role for the team so when I am on the field, I am playing my best rugby,” Sutton said.
“I can’t have those few minutes to get into the game and I have been really focusing on every rep, every minute of training is my best because the end of last year I wasn’t my best and it shot me in the foot.
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“So, I am making sure I am eating well, and resting well and making sure everything this year is to my best because last year was a learning curve. This year, I’ve got no excuses.”
Sutton admits his form trailed off to end 2019, forcing coach Ricky Stuart to leave him out of the side in the biggest game of the year.
“I’ve had the fire in my belly to have a really good off-season a good pre-season,” he said.
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“I wanted the boys to win (the grand final) so much, but something deep inside of me said I wanted to be out there as well.
“When you look at the game and how it unfolded it was really unlucky.
“But we have had a really good off-season and we have had some injuries, but the good thing we have got here is depth.”