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NRL News: Jennings can 're-write story' as Robbo backs 2024 NRL return, Abdo scalds Latrell

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20th March, 2024
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Trent Robinson has suggested that Michael Jennings could make his NRL return sooner rather than later, with the Roosters coach backing the 35-year-old former Kangaroos star to play in the top grade again this year.

Jennings flamed out of the league in 2021 after accepting a doping ban, but has made a lowkey return with the Roosters’ second string and was named 18th man for the Roosters ahead of their derby clash with Souths on Friday night.

“There’s a desire to re-write his story,” said Robinson.

“It’s pretty simple for me that there was a carrot there to get his life and career back on track and that was himself but also through the Roosters.

“I didn’t feel like he was done, he didn’t feel like he was done but he’s had to work for it. That’s come with high-quality training and then some really good performances in reserve grade.

“He’s been a Rooster, he’s done some things on the field that we need to thank him for. It’s time to finish his career in the right way and re-write it as it should’ve been.

“Definitely (he’s a chance to play NRL). That’s what he’s here for. We know we’ve got that (depth) but we like to think some of them might be missing at different times as well throughout the year.

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“That would be ideal and the man can play footy still. That’ll be about getting him into a position and we want to get him towards 300 games.”

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 14: Latrell Mitchell of the Rabbitohs prepares to kick during the round two NRL match between Brisbane Broncos and South Sydney Rabbitohs at Suncorp Stadium, on March 14, 2024, in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Latrell Mitchell. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Abdo’s “tough and honest conversation” with Latrell

Andrew Abdo claims he had a “tough and honest conversation” with Latrell Mitchell after meeting with the South Sydney fullback rather than imposing a sanction following his profane radio interview.

The NRL chief executive met with Mitchell at the NRL headquarters in Moore Park on Wednesday night after the Souths star raised eyebrows with a Triple M radio cross on Thursday night, saying “f***” four times and that he didn’t “care if I’m swearing” as he reflected on the Rabbitohs’ 28-18 loss to Brisbane.

There have been calls for tougher sanctions to Mitchell for bringing the game into disrepute following the 12-match ban dished out to Roosters prop Spencer Leniu for racially abusing a Broncos opponent in Round 1.

“I met with Latrell this evening,” Abdo said.

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“It was a tough and honest conversation. I explained what’s expected of him as an NRL player and the issues with his behaviour of the last few weeks which can’t be repeated.

Acting NRL Chief Executive Officer Andrew Abdo

Andrew Abdo. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

“He acknowledged this and we agreed to continue to work together on some important issues impacting the game.”

Abdo has repeatedly rejected suggestions that Mitchell was being given preferential treatment by having a meeting organised.

The drama could not have come at a worse time for Rabbitohs coach Jason Demetriou, who faced a revolt from his assistant coaches Sam Burgess and John Morris late last season over stars like Mitchell and Cody Walker getting special treatment compared to other players.

Souths have dropped their first two matches of the year heading into Friday night’s Allianz Stadium blockbuster against their bitter rivals, the Sydney Roosters.

Dolphins keen to lure Kuli to Redcliffe

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North Queensland want a fast start against St George Illawarra which is why they will unleash powerhouse second-rower Kulikefu Finefeuiaki on a seek and destroy mission.

The blockbusting off-contract 20 year old will start Saturday’s clash at Kogarah due to a syndesmosis injury to regular starter Heilum Luki.

The Cowboys fought back from a 12-0 deficit to beat Newcastle 21-20 last week after a horror beginning described by prop Jordan McLean as “one of the worst starts I have been involved with” in attack.

The energy and physicality of Finefeuiaki will be crucial to rectifying that against the Dragons.

Finefeuiaki is a man in demand with Wayne Bennett’s Dolphins keen to sign him for next year. Cowboys CEO Jeff Reibel has made it clear the club will do everything in their power to keep him.

Bennett confirmed that the Ipswich State High product toured the Dolphins’ facilities last week.

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“He is an explosive young player on the way up, with a lot of ability,” Bennett said. “We have just got to wait and see now what he does.

“There is a big opportunity because we have balance in our cap and money to spend on quality players.”

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 24: Coach Wayne Bennett talks to his players during a Dolphins NRL training session at Kayo Stadium on January 24, 2023 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Dolphins coach Wayne Bennett talks to his players during training. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Cowboys winger Murray Taulagi also has big raps on Finefeuiaki.

“Kuli has matured over the last couple of years he has been here,” he said. “He is a hard runner and likes the physical side of the game. You can definitely see that he has started to be a crowd favourite. I am just happy that he is on our side. I don’t want to be trying to tackle him.”

McLean has also been impressed. “Kuli just takes his opportunities with both hands,” he said.

“The energy that he brings to the field when he has been coming off the bench is really good so it is exciting for him to get an opportunity to start. He will have that opportunity hopefully for the next few weeks while Heilum’s foot is getting fixed.”

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Reibel said recently that both Finefeuiaki and Luki were long-term projects for the Cowboys. “They have bought firmly into our system in North Queensland and want to be part of that,” he said.

“We will continue talking to their management and make sure we get the best outcome.”

Penrith’s reign shows importance of GF rematch

Penrith players still remember their first grand-final rematch. It was March 2021, and right back at the start of the Panthers’ dynasty.

Up against Melbourne, Panthers players had conducted a forensic review of their 26-20 defeat to the Storm in the previous year’s decider in the months before. “We wanted to not shy away from it,” winger Brian To’o recalled this week.

“It was hard and painful. But it laid the foundation for us and where we are now.”

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Almost to a man, Penrith players still regard the 2020 grand final and the battles with Melbourne that followed as a big part of the making of them. They strived to become more aggressive, arrogant and willing to stand up for their mates.

“We used that grand final (as motivation) for every game that year (in 2021),” five-eighth Jarome Luai said.

“Not just when we played Melbourne. We took things out of that game that we will use until we stop playing. There were great lessons out of that game.”

Ultimately, Penrith won that 2021 grand final rematch, with Viliame Kikau getting off the floor to sprint and make a last-second try-saving tackle.

Afterwards, the Panthers second-rower described in great detail how the pain of the 2020 defeat had driven him across the field. The 12-10 victory was significant.

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It not only helped Penrith win 12 straight to start 2021, but shifted the balance of rugby league power away from the Storm to the Panthers.

The sides met again in the 2021 preliminary final and Penrith kept their form to claim a brutal 10-6 win over Melbourne. They beat South Sydney in the following week’s grand final and lifted the trophy again in the two years since. Come Thursday night, Brisbane have a chance to make a similar statement.

Their task has been made more difficult with Adam Reynolds and Payne Haas both out with knee injuries.

And while Broncos players were told this week by coach Kevin Walters to shut up shop about last year’s grand final, it is clear they are driven by it.

Winger Jesse Arthars admitted as much last week before the order was set in stone.

Brisbane have also spent great time reviewing the defeat, and what Nathan Cleary did to steal the trophy during a crazy 20-minute period on October 1 last year. Second-rower Jordan Riki admitted last month the reviews were gut-wrenching, while Reece Walsh has also spoken of the game as an open wound.

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“I felt in that game I probably wasn’t involved as much as I wanted to be and that was credit to Penrith and their defence,” Walsh said just before season’s eve. “The scars are still hurting but we are using that for the season ahead. We are keeping that wound open.”

A victory for Brisbane will not win them the trophy they let slip from their grasp last year, but one look at Penrith’s reign shows a statement trend-setting statement can be made in the much-anticipated rematches.

“Maybe (Brisbane’s) way of processing it is flushing it,” To’o said. “Whatever works for them … but I know they are definitely going to be motivated to do more this year.”

with AAP

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