Forgotten man shines in Origin audition

Latrell Mitchell and Cody Walker both deserve to be picked when the NSW side is named on Sunday. Picture: AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts
Latrell Mitchell and Cody Walker both deserve to be picked when the NSW side is named on Sunday. Picture: AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts

As the calls continue to grow louder for Latrell Mitchell to make his State of Origin return, South Sydney teammate Cody Walker has sent a gentle reminder to selectors that he’s still available if they need an attacking spark in the halves to keep the series alive.

Walker is the forgotten option at five-eighth given he was man of the match in game three last year and was only ruled out of contention for the series opener after he picked up a calf injury before the teams were named.

The 34-year-old got a taste of Origin in 2019 and then played all three games the following year, but he had to wait until the dead rubber 12 months ago for another opportunity which he grabbed with both hands.

2023 State of Origin - NSW v QLD: Game 3
Cody Walker was man of the match in game three last year. Picture: Brendon Thorne/Getty Images

No spine positions are guaranteed for the must-win match in Melbourne after the Blues struggled in attack with just 12 men, but it will be hard to unseat incumbent five-eighth Jarome Luai who tried his guts out and has been in outstanding form for Penrith with Nathan Cleary out of the side.

But Walker hasn’t done anything wrong either, with the classy playmaker setting up at least one try in all but one game this season, with the veteran taking more control in recent weeks with the seven on his back.

“I’m sure every player in contention would put their hand up if they were selected or given that phone call. I’d be no different,” he said after helping Souths beat Brisbane on Friday.

“I’ve dreamt of playing State of Origin footy since I was a young kid. It was more of a dream back then, rather than something I thought was a reality.

“Through my journey, it probably didn’t become a reality until 2019 when I started to play consistent first-grade footy. I got picked in that series and then over the past couple of years I’ve been in and out.

“I’ve always said that I’m available if they need me. I love the Blues and I bleed blue.”

Westpac NSW Blues Training
Latrell Mitchell is the favourite to be picked at left centre for game two. Picture: Sam Ruttyn

Walker isn’t the only Souths player eyeing a NSW recall, with skipper Cam Murray impressing in his return from a hip flexor injury and indicating that he too is available should Michael Maguire pick him.

But the name on everyone’s lips is Latrell Mitchell after the superstar fullback put in another compelling case to play his first game for the Blues since 2021 after he scored one and set up another in wet conditions at Accor Stadium.

Mitchell has made it clear he wants to play for NSW, and his teammates are adamant he should be picked to replace the suspended Joseph-Aukuso Suaalii having avoided a ban of his own for “escalating” a melee caused by a Jordan Riki shot off the ball.

“The opinion of Latrell hasn’t changed inside our four walls,” Walker said.

“If I was in that position, I’d be putting him in straight away because he’s got that aura about him and he’s got that presence.

“I wouldn’t want to defend against him if I was playing centre, and hopefully he gets his name called out on Sunday.

“Selfishly as a South Sydney player, I hope he stays with us, but when you’re playing that type of footy in that form that gets you in those sides, Latrell has been outstanding over the past couple of weeks. He’s been unbelievable.

“His energy around training has been top notch, his energy and effort in games has been fantastic.”