NRL should back Latrell over ad: Bennett

Pamela Whaley
South Sydney coach Wayne Bennett (left) says Latrell Mitchell has been a target of unfair criticism

South Sydney coach Wayne Bennett has implored the NRL to "stand in front" of Latrell Mitchell as he continues to cop abuse over the game's controversial ad campaign.

Bennett has defended his 22-year-old star who has received a wide-range of attention for his role in the ad, where he is pictured draped in an aboriginal flag.

On Friday, Bennett said the NRL need to take responsibility for the position they have put Mitchell in, claiming he was originally asked to be filmed passing a ball and the idea of the flag was only introduced at the shoot.

"I heard the NRL say they're going to stand behind him. The NRL need to stand in front of him," Bennett said.

"He was doing their job. It wasn't his idea, it wasn't his ad. The NRL need to get in front and say 'we take responsibility for what happened here'.

"It has nothing to do with Latrell."

Mitchell has become the centre of the backlash over the ad with fans and critics who consider the campaign to be too political.

It's not the first time the former Roosters star has been subject to unwarranted criticism, enduring racist online abuse and taking a public stand against it in 2019.

Bennett said while Mitchell has no problem with the ad, the NRL should be doing more to protect him while carrying out their wishes.

"He's not worried about it personally, but I asked him questions when I saw what was coming his way and that's the story, that's the background," Bennett said.

"Players are required in their contracts to do promotional work for the NRL and that's what he was told, to be at a place at 5am ... and this was what was going to happen.

"There was a change of game plan there from what he was told was going to happen, and they gave him the flag and said: 'put this on'.

'He's a young man, he's compliant, he did what he was asked to do."

Mitchell will play his first game for the Rabbitohs against Cronulla on Saturday after making the switch from the Roosters.

Bennett, who is the longest-serving coach in the NRL, said he has never experienced such a level of excitement around a player.

And while he expects Mitchell to take time to adjust to his new position at fullback, Bennett won't be paying any attention to critics.

"You've got to remember with critics, they don't build monuments to them. So why would you worry about critics?" he said.

"If you're going to be in my business and worry about critics, you're not going to last very long."