Latrell Mitchell's proposed switch from fullback to centre at South Sydney has been torched across the rugby league world, with veteran reporter Paul Crawley describing the idea as "absolute madness" on NRL 360 on Tuesday night. Reports emerged this week that the Rabbitohs were considering switching Mitchell back into the centres in 2024, as the fallout from their historic capitulation in 2023 continues.
The 26-year-old plays in that position for both NSW and Australia and also won two premierships with the Roosters as a centre. Former Rabbitohs coach Wayne Bennett successfully helped transform Mitchell into one of the most damaging fullbacks in the game, but concerns have emerged that he doesn't do the 'extra' work the game's top fullbacks all get through.
Mitchell also averaged 25 games per season during his four-year stint at the Roosters, but has only averaged 16 per season at the Rabbitohs, with many suggesting the added workload of playing fullback is contributing to his injury record. With Jack Wighton joining the Rabbitohs from Canberra next season, there has been talk the versatile Raiders veteran could play at No.1 for the Bunnies, despite being under the impression he's moved to South Sydney to play in the centres.
Discussing Mitchell's potential switch on Tuesday night, the NRL 360 panel was unanimous in its opposition to the move. “It would be absolute madness in my books,” Crawley said. “They’ve bought Jack Wighton to play centre — they’re paying $800,000. They’ve got Campbell Graham, they’ve got Isaiah Tass. And if you want to move Latrell there and Jack back at fullback, Jack’s 31.
“It would make absolutely no sense and it would show up that they’ve got their recruitment wrong because if you’re not buying Jack to play centre, you’re not buying him to play fullback.”
There were suggestions Mitchell's proposed switch to the centres was around getting the 26-year-old's hands on the footy more often. NRL great Gorden Tallis said that argument didn't stack up, arguing that fullbacks typically have “15-20 carries a game” on average. “If it was about getting him into the action, fullback would be the spot for him,” he surmised.
Latrell Mitchell switch 'not the solution' for Rabbitohs
Braith Anasta agreed that a positional switch for Mitchell is “not the solution” - with no obvious replacement at fullback. “Whether people think he’s a centre or a fullback or vice versa, the solution is not moving him from fullback to centre,” he said.
Anasta insisted the Rabbitohs did not need to make "dramatic change" after becoming the first team in the NRL era to miss out on the finals after leading the competition as late as round 12. The NRL 360 co-host said he thought South Sydney's biggest problems were around the end-of-season dramas engulfing the club.
The biggest of those surrounded the exit of assistant coach Sam Burgess, who reportedly refused to back down on his assertion that the standards at the club had dipped to unacceptable levels. “It’s not their foot ability that’s cost them, it’s whatever’s happening inside those four walls and psychologically the mindset of the players has just gone way off track," Anasta added. “But I don’t think dramatic change is needed.”
The Rabbitohs will conduct a review into their woeful collapse in 2023, with Mitchell's position sure to be one of the main talking points. Crawley also argued that Jason Demetriou would be “the coach under the most pressure” going into the new season, after the Bunnies boss accepted the blame for his season's late collapse, following the final round defeat to the Sydney Roosters.
“I’ve got to hold my hands up there — I’m head coach, it’s on me to make sure we’re better,” he said. “I could sit here and make excuses, it hurts, it’s a tough lesson to learn but I’ll learn it.”
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