‘Headspace’ to determine Latrell’s Origin future

2024 State of Origin Series Launch
NSW Blues head coach Michael Maguire says he has a lot of talent to pick from. Picture: Daniel Pockett/Getty Images

New NSW coach Michael Maguire is casting a wide net, declaring there could be “40 or 50” players vying for 17 jerseys on June 5 and superstar fullback Latrell Mitchell needed to be in the “right headspace” to play.

Maguire met with a raft of hopefuls last week but not Mitchell, who was invited to the catch-up dinner but didn’t attend.

Putting “character” as a key selection plank, Maguire, who on Tuesday stood on the MCG where game two of the series will be played, said players like resilient Storm fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen had displayed the qualities he was looking for in a side he wanted “NSW to be proud of”.

Maguire spoke to a group of 35 players earlier in the season and spelled out what he was looking for to end Queensland’s run of two series wins.

He said there was no limitations on selection and his ongoing conversations with former Blues, and experience as coach of the New Zealand international team, proved to him that only some players could step up to the required level for something like State of Origin.

“I had the opportunity, and both states do, where you bring in quite a wider group just to talk around where you’re going with the team and look, I could have had probably 45 or 50,” he said.

State of Origin Media Launch
Origin coaches Billy Slater and Michael Maguire at the MCG. Picture: Mark Stewart

“That’s something that I’m fortunate to have. But also too, one thing I find at this level, as you know, they’re not far between the talent, but it’s the character of the player that I’m really keen to learn and get a good understanding because building the character of the team is something that feels really important on where we are right now and in moving forward.

“You’ve got to have experience and one thing that as coach you know is that people can play to certain levels. Some are a couple of first grade games, some might be a seasoned player, some can step up into representative football.

“Some players can step up to another level and some people sort of sometimes struggle. So it’s finding those right people that can step into this arena and getting the right balance.”

Mitchell has missed the past two series due to injury and is serving a three-match ban having struggled through South Sydney’s poor start to the season. Despite being a star in 2021, he’s no longer a certainty to play.

“Everyone knows the capabilities of Latrell, but it’s about making sure he is in the right headspace,” Maguire said.

“At the moment, one thing I know is that in big games, you need your focus right about where you are going.

Latrell Mitchell watches from the stands last weekend. Picture: NRL Photos
Latrell Mitchell watches from the stands last weekend. Picture: NRL Photos

“Souths are going through a tough period, but Latrell has a chance to bunker down and really help the NSW team.

“He has another couple of months where he can put himself into that shape, but Origin games are up there with the biggest games of your life.

“I want to see that focus from all the players, making sure they are in a good headspace and feeling good about where they are.

“That helps the make-up of your team. We need all our guys to be playing at their best, including Latrell.”

Game one of the 2024 series is on June 5 in Sydney.