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NRL News: Wighton says 'sorry' Latrell has burning desire after Gus raises retirement call, Annesley refutes hip-drop critics

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9th April, 2024
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Jack Wighton insists Latrell Mitchell still has a desire to play in the NRL as under-fire South Sydney coach Jason Demetriou rolls the dice on debutant Jye Gray with his job under increasing scrutiny.

Wighton was reluctant to discuss Mitchell, who has been suspended for three weeks to leave Demetriou short of star power heading into a run of games against Cronulla, Melbourne and Penrith.

Rabbitohs utility forward Siliva Havili revealed on Tuesday that the fullback had apologised for his latest brain snap, after using an elbow in a tackle with Shaun Johnson in Souths’ rudderless 34-4 loss to the Warriors on Saturday.

News of Mitchell’s apology came less than 24 hours after Phil Gould had questioned whether the suspended fullback retained the thirst to play in the NRL.

Wighton played down those concerns before refusing to answer questions about Mitchell, who ran with the reserves as Gray took over fullback duties ahead of Saturday’s clash with the Sharks.

“Of course he wants to play the game, but I’m not here to talk about Latrell,” Wighton said.

“If you want to ask Latrell questions, you talk to ‘Trell’, sorry.

“It’s not my place … I’m here to talk about me and what I can do for the team.

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“I am a mate, and a mate protects a mate by not talking about him.”

Mitchell fronted South Sydney’s senior club figures on Tuesday in the wake of his sub-par start to the season which has culminated in a three-game ban.

Souths CEO Blake Solly told The Sydney Morning Herald that the meeting with Mitchell had been planned prior to the weekend’s events which followed similar on-field incidents when the 26-year-old was lucky to avoid a ban from the judiciary.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 06: Latrell Mitchell of the Rabbitohs is tackled during the round five NRL match between South Sydney Rabbitohs and New Zealand Warriors at Accor Stadium, on April 06, 2024, in Sydney, Australia.

(Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

He was also in the headlines for repeatedly swearing during a post-game interview after the Round 2 loss to Brisbane.

His poor form has contributed to Souths’ 1-4 start to the year heading into Saturday’s clash with Cronulla and coach Jason Demetriou is under pressure to avoid the sack, in part because of his refusal to pull Mitchell into line.

The cards could not have fallen any worse for Demetriou as he battles for his job.

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But Wighton insisted the Bunnies had not given up on their coach as they bid to drag themselves out of the mire.

“We’ve all got his back,” Wighton said. “No one likes losing. We’re just in one of those patches, but we’re looking forward.

“We’ve got his back, and everyone in that building has each other’s backs.”

Gould on 100% Footy on Monday night claimed Mitchell could retire at a young age. “Has anyone ever sat Latrell down and said do you really want to play this game?,” he said on 100% Footy.

“Are you really in love with this game? Do you love the hard work? Do you love the discipline? Do you love your teammates? Do you love the club? Or is it just I’ll do it because I’m good at it but I’ll do it my own way.

“Has someone actually sat him down and said if you had a chance to walk away, would you go? I reckon he would. I reckon he will, I don’t see that he’s in love with it at all.”

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A switch to centre has been mooted for Mitchell with Jack Wighton, rookie Jye Gray or even Cody Walker switching to fullback.

Gould said Mitchell lacked intensity in the effort areas of the game.

“He plays at his own pace, he plays at his own style and his own way. He picks and chooses his times. And he doesn’t put a lot of work into the effort areas of the game,” the former premiership-winning coach said.

“It feels as though there’s him and the rest of his team and they’ll all say the right thing and blend in and stick up for him. The game sticks up for him and everyone sticks up for him but Latrell doesn’t respond. He doesn’t respond to that.

“The problem is he’s an elite talent, an incredible talent, he can change games, he can influence results, no risk about that. But how long since he’s been doing that? He has little moments in games where things fall his way and he’ll do it, but he doesn’t go looking for work, he doesn’t go looking for big moments and it would seem at times he’s not where he should be at different times. That lets his team down as well.”

Mitchell’s current ban could have been worse – he wasn’t charged for a lifting tackle in the loss to the Warriors on Tohu Harris, with NRL head of football Graham Annesley revealing the South Sydney player had been given a “concerning act notice”. 

“Latrell has been issued with a concerning act notice for that type of action,” Annesley said. “It didn’t warrant a charge because of the action that he took to avoid it turning into something that could’ve been much worse.”  

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Annesley refutes hip-drop confusion

The NRL’s football boss says referees are getting better at policing hip-drop tackles despite two players dodging suspension after being sin-binned in round five.

Sydney Roosters lock Victor Radley and North Queensland halfback Chad Townsend were forced off for 10 minutes after laying hip-drop style tackles in their respective games.

But closer inspection cast doubt as to whether either shot featured the three elements of a hip-drop tackle: a defender holding a ball-carrier, twisting them and then applying full body weight onto their legs.

Repeat offender Radley was sin-binned during the final 10 minutes of the Roosters’ 30-26 loss to Canterbury, reducing his side to only 11 players as they fought to ice an unlikely comeback.

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But the morning after the game, Radley avoided sanction altogether for the tackle, on Bulldogs captain Stephen Crichton.

“The match review committee deemed it to be accidental and not careless,” said the NRL’s head of football Graham Annesley.

“It was knee falling onto the ankle. They also took into consideration the involvement of (Roosters utility) Connor Watson in the tackle.”

Townsend received only a $1,000 fine for his tackle on Gold Coast fullback Jayden Campbell, deemed a grade-one offence after the Cowboys’ 35-22 win on Sunday.

It wasn’t the first time in recent seasons the game-day referees and match review committee had differed in their assessments of hip-drop style tackles.

Bulldogs second-rower Jacob Preston was memorably sin-binned during last season’s Good Friday loss to South Sydney, only to avoid sanction the next day.

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Conversely, Brisbane’s Pat Carrigan remained on field after laying a hip-drop tackle on Jackson Hastings late in the 2022 season but received a four-match ban in the days that followed.

Annesley has always been at pains to stress that assessing the severity of hip-drop tackles in real time is difficult for on-field match officials.

“We’ve seen cases in the past where players will be sin binned and there’ll be no charge, and we’ve seen cases where players aren’t sin binned but are charged,” Annesley said.

“Our objective is to try and have some degree of uniformity (between referees and the match review committee) in those decisions. 

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“They won’t always be in complete alignment because of the different operating environments.

“I’m happy that the match officials have got much, much better at picking up the type of action involved in a hip drop.”

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Elsewhere, Annesley downplayed criticism alleging Manly had knocked the ball on ahead of a try awarded to Tolu Koula in the 32-18 defeat of Penrith. Annesley was non-committal when asked whether he thought Tommy Talau had spilt the ball forward ahead of the try, which emboldened Manly to go on with things just before the half.

But Annesley noted the touch judge had been beside Talau at the time the ball went to ground. “I don’t think this is the outrageously bad decision that some people have suggested,” he said. “In fact, in some quarters, it’s had some support.” 

with AAP

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