Latrell Mitchell has revealed he stepped aside for "someone who deserves a crack" rather than making himself available for Kangaroos selection. On Tuesday, Mal Meninga said he was "surprised" that Mitchell wasn't available as he announced his 21-man squad for the upcoming Pacific Test Championships.
The South Sydney fullback is reportedly dealing with a hand injury that hampered him at the end of the NRL season. He played at the Koori Knockout Indigenous carnival last weekend, but Meninga revealed on Tuesday he was unavailable for Kangaroos selection due to the injury.
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“South Sydney Rabbitohs said he was out because of injury. We have just gone with that,” the coach said. When asked about Mitchell's participation in the Koori Knockout, Meninga said: “I was a bit surprised, but I think the club gave him permission to do that.
“Knowing Latrell, he loves the Koori Knockout, he always gets involved. A very proud First Nations person. He has got through that tournament well and I look forward to him having a good off-season.”
On Tuesday night, Mitchell addressed the situation and said he was happy to stand aside for someone else. “I play for my country because I love it,” he wrote on Instagram.
“It’s not my time to put the jersey on this year. It’s for someone that deserves a crack! I will be back. Koori knockout was to simply give back to so many that deserve it. I love my culture and my people. Don’t get it twisted.”
NewsCorp reported on Tuesday night that Mitchell's looming court appearance for an alleged fight outside a Canberra nightclub with Jack Wighton in February could also be a reason for his absence from the Kangaroos. The court date has been set down for October 30 - the same week as the Pacific Championships final in New Zealand.
James Tedesco addresses Latrell Mitchell's absence
According to the Rabbitohs, Mitchell only played about 10 minutes at the Koori Knockout and wouldn't be up to playing at Test level. "He is so talented and you put him in this team every time," captain James Tedesco said on Tuesday.
"I don't know what the situation was and why he couldn't play. We'll miss him. In the centres as well you can give him the ball and he can create something out of nothing, which he did numerous times for us last year."
Meninga previously said it would be good for Mitchell to get around his World Cup-winning Kangaroos teammates after the Rabbitohs fullback was embroiled in turmoil at the end of the NRL season. Mitchell was suspended for Souths' final game (which they lost to the Roosters and missed out on the finals), and copped widespread criticism for some lacklustre performances.
“I’m really keen for him to be available," Meninga said last month. "I’m sure he loves the Kangaroos’ environment as well. He’s had an up and down year with injuries and suspension, but I’ve told him it would be nice to finish the year off in a nice environment where you will have a bit of fun and play good footy."
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