NRL fans were left staggered on Saturday night after Latrell Mitchell announced in a post-match interview that he was withdrawing himself from State of Origin selection.
Mitchell made a successful return after 12 weeks on the sidelines as South Sydney thrashed Parramatta 30-12 in a huge upset.
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The Rabbitohs fullback was in brilliant form as he helped his side pull off the extraordinary win, immediately raising questions about whether he should be rushed straight back into Brad Fittler's NSW team for Origin III.
But Mitchell answered the questions in emphatic fashion as he revealed that he's withdrawing himself from contention in order to focus on Souths.
"I think I'm going to shut those headlines down now, I'm going to pull myself out and worry about Souths and focus on myself," he said in an interview with Fox League.
"They've got a real good team there, NSW, and good luck to them and Burton in the centres.
"Give Crichton a go too. I really want to focus on South Sydney and getting myself right for the backend of the season."
Mitchell was arguably NSW's best player in the 2021 Origin series, but missed the opening two games this year due to injury.
Matt Burton starred in his debut in the centres in Game II, while Jack Wighton will most likely come back into the side in the other centre spot after missing the second game with Covid.
Stephen Crichton started in the centres in place of Wighton in Game II, but might have to settle with being relegated back to the bench for the series decider after wearing the No.14 jersey in Game I.
Crichton might also miss out entirely, with Fittler choosing to carry two hookers in Api Koroisau and Damien Cook in NSW's 44-12 thrashing of Queensland in Perth.
Damien Cook commends Latrell Mitchell for selfless call
Cook hailed Mitchell for his selfless call to rule himself out of Origin contention.
"I'm really proud of him," said Cook, who has played with Mitchell in seven Origin games.
"All the work he's done the last 12 weeks to get himself right and now to put South Sydney first, it's great work from him."
Playing his first game since injuring his hamstring in round five, Mitchell focused more on getting through the 80 minutes unscathed than putting on a rugby league masterclass.
When the game was in the balance, Alex Johnston put his hand up for yardage carries more often than Mitchell, while the halves took on the vast majority of playmaking duties.
Mitchell did break through the line to ignite the play that put the result beyond doubt in the 65th minute.
And coming off the back of a hefty loss to St George Illawarra - in which they conceded 32 points in 30 minutes - the Rabbitohs took confidence from Mitchell's inclusion as they regained composure in attack.
Rabbitohs coach Jason Demetriou said he was pleased with Mitchell's decision.
"It shows a fair commitment from him to his teammates and to his club that he wants to perform here," he said.
"It shows a bit of respect to the Blues as well; after a great performance (in game two), he's confident that those guys can get the job done."
Demetriou said his fullback was in a good position to build on his game in the coming weeks.
"He's in better shape than he was in round two when he came back (from suspension)," Demetriou said.
"He's coming back in round 16 when every bloke out there has played half a season. They're battle-hardened and they're a lot fitter and used to the game.
"For him to come back and see out the 80 was pretty good."
Wow, Latrell just ruled himself out of Origin. Huge news
— Brent Read (@brentread_7) July 2, 2022
Latrell does a great thing and makes himself unavailable for Origin. Obviously knows his body and knows his fitness levels aren’t right. Making a call now. Now people are bagging him saying he is breaking the rules of the game. This guy can’t win
— Josh Kemp (@Kemparelli) July 2, 2022
— Mal Cole (@MalCole1947) July 2, 2022
Really rate what Latrell did last night, knows his body not 100% for Origin and wants to look after himself and his club (who helped him) through rehab and getting back to his best. See him smiling most of the game and after shows how far he has come, full credit to him 💪 #NRL
— Mark Cruickshank (@MCruicky) July 3, 2022
Latrell pulling out of Origin is a brave call. I think he would play if needed but knows you gotta be 100% confident in his own ability and fitness which he may not at the moment. Also gives NSW and the incumbents a chance to focus on game 3 as early as possible. #nrl
— state of oranges (@bushfootycoach) July 3, 2022
Latrell just withdrew himself from Origin selection to ‘focus on Souths’.
As a Rugby League fan, I respect it.
As a @NSWBlues fan, I’m devastated.
As a @NRLKnights fan, I’m shitting myself.
Bring on next week 😅#NRL #NRLSouthsEels #allredandblue
— dom (@dommentary) July 2, 2022
Credit where it’s due. Latrell Mitchell ruling himself out of origin to stop the media speculation and giving the two guys who did well in game 2 a chance to do it again is an incredibly mature decision. Good on him.
— Hayley (@Hayleyyemma) July 2, 2022
Latrell ruling himself out of Origin is gotta be one of the most selfless acts currently in the game! Not many players would do it, yet the media creates so many negative narratives around him 🤦🏻♂️ #NRLSouthsEels the fact he’s focusing on club footy, watch out for them finals time
— Kye Ferreira (@KyeFerreira) July 2, 2022
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