There's little doubt about the impact Latrell Mitchell's withdrawal will have on NSW Origin side, with Blues fans left rocked by news the South Sydney superstar has been ruled out of Game I with a calf injury. Mitchell has been in irresistible form in the NRL this season for the high-flying Bunnies, and Blues legend and assistant coach Andrew Johns warning his loss is a bigger blow to NSW than many realise.
Mitchell's partnership with Tom Trbojevic in the centres had Blues fans salivating ahead of Wednesday night's series opener in Adelaide. Having both missed last year's series with injury, Mitchell and Trbojevic had been reunited after starring for the Blues in the last series they won in 2021.
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While Mitchell's calf strain is understood to be a minor issue and he is expected to return for Game II, the setback is sure to have an impact on the field for the Blues, with few other players possessing the same level of presence that strikes fear in the hearts of opposition defences.
That is not a slight on Mitchell's replacement at centre Stephen Crichton - a two-time premiership winner with Penrith who knows all about playing on the biggest stages in rugby league. Crichton is an excellent player to come in for Mitchell, but as league 'Immortal' Andrew Johns has warned, it's not just the presence on game day that the Blues will be missing after Mitchell's withdrawal.
Johns understands the Origin arena better than many and the NSW assistant warns Mitchell's absence from Blues camp is sure to impact the playing group in ways that are hard to quantify. The NRL great told Wide World of Sports' Immortal Behaviour that the Rabbitohs superstar's energy and enthusiasm at training has been "infectious" on the Blues playing group.
Johns said Mitchell had been "so happy" and bubbly at training, with his positive attitude having a significant effect on morale within the squad. The NSW legend credited Mitchell with being the who player who "drives the enthusiasm", often bouncing off Blues winger and good mate, Josh Addo-Carr.
" I've never seen him so happy, so up, and he is so infectious," Johns said. "You've got him on one side jumping out of his skin like a 10-year-old, and on the other side you've got the Foxx (Addo-Carr) screaming out and laughing and carrying on. It's so infectious. When those boys are up everyone is up."
Stephen Crichton backed to fill Latrell Mitchell's boots
Johns admits the Mitchell injury blow is a "big loss" for the Blues after enthusing about the combinations he'd built up with edge forward Hudson Young at Blues camp. He admits NSW will have to tweak a few things after Crichton's elevation to the starting side but NSW coach Brad Fittler has backed the versatile Panthers star to rise to the occasion.
Fittler says he has no concerns throwing Crichton into the mix after he featured in all three games of last year's series. "He's played in big games, he's been in grand finals and won grand finals and did a good job at the World Cup (with Samoa) and with us," the Blues coach said. "He won't be overwhelmed by the situation. We had a move called 'Latrell' so Stephen might have to adjust to that."
It's understood Crichton's inclusion will see the Maroons make a slight tweak to their backline, with centres Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow and Val Holmes to swap sides in a move that pits the 'Hammer' against Manly superstar, Trbojevic. Tabuai-Fidow was initially slated to be playing on the other side, entrusted with the duty of trying to counter Blues superstar, Mitchell.
The Courier Mail's Pete Badel revealed the Maroons tweaks on NRL 360, while confirming that Ben Hunt will start in the hooking role for Queensland, with Harry Grant coming off the bench. “A few positional changes, confirmation that Hamiso will start on the left edge for Queensland and that moves Valentine Holmes over the right side,” he told NRL 360.
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