Steve Sutton was approached by Cowra Magpies secretary Wayne Browne in September last year asking whether he’d be interested in coaching the Magpies in 2018.
At that time the Magpies were in a dire situation with no committee and no one willing to be president after multiple annual general meetings.
Sutton couldn’t commit but he threw some suggestions at Browne of who he thought would suit the coaching job.
A committee was formed when Marc McLeish nominated for the role of president and things started taking shape.
Sutton’s prospect of moving away for work fell through and he called McLeish in the middle of November to tell him he’d happily commit.
The coaching position was still open and the Magpies secured their coach for 2018.
At that stage it’d been two years since Sutton left the helm in 2015, one season after he’d mentored the Magpies to a grand final berth in 2014.
He kept a keen eye on the Magpies while Rory Brien coached the team in 2016 and 2017 – the Magpies both years failing to make the finals.
Sutton was quick to recognise positions he wanted to fill.
“I knew there were holes. At that stage they’d already signed Josh Rainbow, Joey Bugg and we knew Will Ingram was coming back. But I thought five-eighth was an issue, at that stage Warren [Williams] was uncertain with what he was doing,” Sutton said.
“I approached Sam Dwyer, I know him well, I had a crack at him but he signed with St Pat’s. Benji John was the first one I signed. We heard he hadn’t signed with anyone so I shot him a message and me and Browney went and signed him. It solved a problem for us because Jack Nobes had told us he wasn’t playing this year.”
The big signing was Jeremy Gordon.
A winner of the the Group 10 Player of the Year in 2016, Gordon’s signing has been described by Sutton as “a shot at the stumps” which resulted in “a direct hit”.
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“We spoke to Jeremy and asked what was happening with him. He showed interest and to Panthers’ credit we were able to work things out with them, and Bradyn came along with him. They’ve both been massive success stories,” Sutton said.
Sutton said he was confident in the squad before luring Gordon.
“We had Poss [Josh Rainbow] and Moz [Blake Tidswell]. Poss was an unknown quantity, he’s always shown ability at Blayney but he’s never been as consistent as he’s been this year. Talking to people close to him he’s just really enjoying playing back at home.
“Jeremy was just a shot at the stumps and it was a direct hit.”
The season neared and the Magpies lost its openign game in the Bathurst Knockout and were beat by Kiama Knights in a preseason clash.
Drawn to play early premiership favourites Oberon in round one, Cowra were given little chance by many within the Group.
Oberon, however, were experiencing a disrupted start to the year, after momentarily standing down captain-coach Luke Branighan, and the Magpies swooped to register a round one win.
Despite the 38-6 hammering of the 2017 runners up, it wasn’t until round five that Sutton realised he had team that could threaten the premiership.
With two wins and two losses after the opening four rounds, Cowra lifted to beat Panthers 30-14 at Carrington Park in the curtain raiser to the NRL match between Penrith and North Queensland.
“There were signs in the first game. I knew we’d have a big chance against Oberon because of their disrupted preparation to start the year but I didn’t expect to do a demolition job on them,” Sutton said.
“Than we had a tough loss against Hawks and we were unlucky losing to CYMS and suddenly we were one from three. I think it was the game against Panthers at Bathurst we all looked at each other and thought ‘we got a team here’.”
It was the second win of a five game winning streak, moving Cowra to second on the ladder behind an improved Orange Hawks.
Cowra continued to pressure Hawks who crumbled in the final regular rounds suffering back-to-back losses to Orange CYMS and Oberon, and the Magpies swooped on the minor premiership.
“It’s been a roller coaster year but I’m really pleased with how things have worked out,” Sutton said.
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A lot of similarities can be drawn between this year’s roster that of 2014.
The biggest difference is the team’s balance, Sutton says.
“A lot of players were square pegs in round holes in 2014 but this year everyone is their position is the best player possible for that position,” he said.
An influential figure has been Kurt Hancock.
The experienced coach has linked with the Magpies in 2018 and has provided an “outsiders perspective” which has proved extremely valuable.
“He told us when he coaches against us that he tells his players to hang in there and hang in there and eventually Cowra will leak points, they can’t defend back-to-back. When someone tells you that you look into it,” he said.
Sutton said he can’t remember the last time Cowra’s had the best defence in Group 10.
“It would have to be in 1996 or 1997. There’s been games this year where we’ve had no right to be in the game but our defence has kept us in it,” he said.
Some of Sutton’s coaching highlights include 2014 Group 10 runners up and winning the Bathurst Knockout and coaching the Canowindra Tigers to their last Woodbridge Cup premiership in 1995.
“Hopefully the biggest highlight is yet to come,” he said.