Latrell Mitchell has signed a one-year deal with the South Sydney Rabbitohs with an option for a second season, finally bringing to a close the off-season’s biggest saga and speculation about his short-term future.
Mitchell rejected various offers, including $1 million a season four-year offer from the Wests Tigers, to sign with Souths over the Tigers’ bitter rival, Sydney Roosters. He reiterated that he would have regretted signing for Wests and that money was not the driving force.
“There’s goals in my life that I want to set that money brings, but then again you’ve got to set that up,” he said. “For the next 12 months I’m here I just want to keep striving for that and play some good footy.”
Mitchell experienced a challenging 2019 season, including being dropped from the New South Wales State of Origin squad after Game 1 and dealing with racist online trolls. The end of 2019 also saw Mitchell having to deal with contract negotiations and the breakdown between him and the Roosters. The breakdown occurred after Mitchell announced he would like to explore his options after the Roosters tables an $800,000 a year offer which would have made Mitchell the highest-paid centre in the NRL.
Mitchell and his two representatives – officially Wayde Rushton and unofficially Matt Rose – have left the Roosters bemused by accepting a pay cut with Souths two months after rejecting a pay rise. The Roosters, Souths, Mitchell and Rose have all played by the rules, though, which has caused an excruciating off-season of speculation and rumour.
One of the biggest challenges Mitchell had to work through last year was being dropped from the Origin squad for Game 2 after a perceived lack of effort, which stemmed from Game 3 in 2018. Mitchell was reportedly upset about how the news was delivered and also commented on.
“NSW went real funny on us because we don’t sing the anthem,” he said.
Mitchell and Blues teammates Cody Walker and Josh Ado-Carr – as well as Maroons centre Will Chambers – refused to sing the national anthem because they believe it does not represent them as Indigenous Australians. The NSWRL and Blues coach Brad Fittler denied Mitchell’s dropping had anything to do with his refusal to sing the national anthem, and the quote from NRL.com was removed after NSWRL chief executive Dave Trodden phoned NRL boss Todd Greenberg claiming it was defamatory.
This in itself did not make much sense as both Fittler and Trodden backed their players’ right not to sing, even if they did not personally support the notion. Addo-Carr was also awarded the True Blue Award from at the NSWRL end of season awards for being the “player who displayed qualities upon which team ethos is built”.
Mitchell – who was granted extended leave in the off-season to sort his contractual situation as well as visit his home town of Taree, where he visited fire-ravaged areas – was publicly supported by Roosters coach Trent Robinson. Robinson, who supported Mitchell through many of his troubles last season, declared his relationship with Mitchell was still good despite the contract situation.
“He’s a good man, he hasn’t done anything wrong, the thing that frustrated me is the personal attacks on Latrell,” he said. “He’s a good character and a great player as well.”
Mitchell is no doubt one of the most gifted players in the NRL and at his best is that rare fusion of size, speed, skill and aggression. Souths will be hoping they see the best of Mitchell and that he can rediscover his best form as he puts his contractual situation behind him.
Mitchell is not a straightforward character and deeply connects with his Indigenous roots, highlighted through his refusal to sing the national anthem. Mitchell must learn lessons from this contract saga. NRL supporters, though, undoubtedly would love to see Mitchell back at his best, and his close relationship with Souths teammate s Cody Walker and James Roberts will play a key role in him bedding into the team.
Latrell Mitchell has certainly found his voice, which should be encouraged, especially as a young Indigenous man. He must now exercise the responsibility that comes with such a voice.