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Opinion

Latrell's career may have already peaked unless he can eradicate momentary lapses of discipline

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Expert
21st August, 2023
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Latrell Mitchell is 26 and 160 NRL games into his career but he may have already peaked at a time when he should be entering his prime. 

He is in danger of sabotaging his career and never truly living up to his prodigious talent in what should be the prime years of his time in the NRL because of his careless and occasionally petulant ways. 

These manifest in ways such as his cheap shot on Tyson Frizell in the dying stages of South Sydney’s loss to the Knights in Newcastle on Sunday. 

There’s no excuse – there was clear intent from Mitchell to hit Frizell from behind after he was tackled and it was only through good luck rather than anything else that his elbow stuck the Knights forward in the back before clipping him in the head. 

It wasn’t the worst piece of foul play you will see on a rugby league field but it was unnecessary and it has cost his team dearly as the Rabbitohs will now go into their Round 27 showdown with the Roosters with a playoff berth on the line without their star fullback. 

And it is the continuation of a theme of ill discipline which has dogged Mitchell’s career – he now has racked up nine stints in the sin bin to sit alongside Roosters lock Victor Radley for the most in NRL history. 

Mitchell copped plenty of criticism, and unfortunately some horrendous online abuse from keyboard cowards, when he laid out former teammate Joey Manu a couple of years ago with a high shot.

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That was a tackle that went wrong – it wasn’t necessarily malicious and Mitchell was remorseful, apologising to his old centre partner straight after the game, which Manu graciously accepted.

Those things happen in the breakneck speed of the NRL arena and Mitchell paid a heavy price with his ban ruling him out of South Sydney’s playoff campaign which finished a sideline conversion shy of the Panthers in the Grand Final.

The ongoing problem for Mitchell has been that he is frequently losing his cool on the playing field and not focusing on what matters. 

Seemingly little things like conversion attempts sum up the Mitchell dilemma – with his booming left boot he can nail kicks from the sideline without raising a sweat but he can be lackadaisical closer to the posts, such as a shot from adjacent to the sticks on the weekend which bounced away off the upright. 

Latrell Mitchell. (Photo by Scott Gardiner/Getty Images)

Sometimes professional sportspeople have too much success early in their career and they lack that infinitesimal and indefinable extra element of hunger that’s needed to scale those heights again.

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Mitchell made his NRL debut in the opening round of 2016 and two years later he was a premiership winner at the Roosters. 

The following year he had two premiership rings, all before his 23rd birthday. 

He’s held aloft the State of Origin shield with NSW and the World Cup as a key part of the Kangaroos squad last year. 

The proud Biripi and Wiradjuri man has represented the Indigenous All Stars five times and as a senior statesman for his people, he’s already established a legacy as a leader for this generation alongside the likes of Cody Walker, Ryan James and Wade Graham.

He’s spoken frequently about his love for cattle farming and how he plans to return to Taree once his career is over – hopefully that day is many years away but it could be closer than many people think and Rabbitohs fans want. 

Mitchell is under contract until the end of 2027 but many NRL stars who hit the big time as teenagers tend to retire earlier as the physical and mental grind of this extremely tough sport takes its toll.

He’s similar in a lot of ways to Mark Gasnier, who was another hyped-up prospect when he entered the league who was a bit of a wandering soul who took a detour via French club rugby before returning to St George Illawarra to win a premiership in 2010 and then retiring the following year a few months after turning 30.

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Hopefully Mitchell plays well into his 30s, if that’s his desire, because in the age of automatons who speak in cliches, his candour and honesty is refreshing. 

(Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images)

Characters are thin on the ground in the NRL and he’s also an amazing talent with skills that are the envy of at least 99% of opponents.

With reports emerging that Mitchell and Walker are having too much sway in the dressing room, coach Jason Demetriou has been forced to respond by saying that is not the case.

These are the kinds of dramas that emerge when a team is falling short of expectations.

After five straight trips to at least the preliminary final stage, they won’t even qualify for the playoffs unless they locate their missing form during the bye week and beat the Roosters next Friday at Accor Stadium. 

All season long they have had a “she’ll be right” attitude. 

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Lose a few games during Origin season? That’s alright, we’ll be right once it’s over.

Key players out injured? Doesn’t matter, they’ll all be back soon.

Dropped out of the top four? We can string a few wins together and get back up there.

It hasn’t clicked and it’s too late now. Since they were in first spot in Round 11, they’ve won just four of 12 outings.

The clock is not ticking but time stands still for no team. Souths are at an interesting juncture with their roster. 

Latrell Mitchell

(Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

Walker and Damien Cook have two more years left on their contract and probably in their careers but the nucleus of their team is in the sweet spot of their career like Cameron Murray, Alex Johnston and Jai Arrow or on the rise like Campbell Graham and Keaon Koloamatangi. 

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And they also have the rather substantial addition of Jack Wighton heading their way next year.

So in no way is their premiership window closing but the 2023 season is almost certainly going to be a write-off. 

After being so close to the title for five straight years, missing the finals could turn out to be a good thing for them if it delivers the wake-up call to Mitchell and co that there’s no time like the present to make the most of your opportunities. 

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