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NRL News: Latrell returns a changed man - Hornby, 'Our game is finished' fumes Fatty at Bunker after 'awful' penalty

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10th May, 2024
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Ben Hornby says Latrell Mitchell has become a changed man during his suspension but warns South Sydney can’t expect the fullback to be their saviour on his return.

Saturday’s game against St George Illawarra will be Mitchell’s first since receiving a three-match ban for elbowing Shaun Johnson in the head during the round-five loss to the Warriors.

Souths have undergone significant off-field upheaval since then, sacking coach Jason Demetriou, installing Hornby as his interim replacement and signing Lewis Dodd to play halfback from 2025.

Mitchell’s return is a much-needed boost for last-placed Souths, whose injury crisis has become so dire they’ve called Queensland Cup player Gehamat Shibasaki in on a game-by-game basis and will start debutant Dion Teapua at halfback.

“It’s great to have (Mitchell) back,” Hornby said.

“Latrell is a big player obviously, big part of our team and you’ve seen when he plays we tend to do a lot better.”

Mitchell’s suspension marked the second time since August the fullback received a ban for dangerous contact at crucial junctures of the season.

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In round 25 last year he elbowed Tyson Frizell in the head during a loss to Newcastle and was forced to watch Souths drop from finals contention by losing their next game.

Hornby believed Mitchell had learned from his latest indiscretion, saying his frustrated side had not come out during his ban.

“He’s learned from that, he’s dealt with it. He’s come back, he’s refreshed. We’re looking forward to seeing him have a big impact on the game,” Hornby said.

“The last couple of weeks, I’ve seen a real change in him.

“He’s been doing a really good job at training the last couple of weeks, preparing the boys as best he can as well.

“He’s really engaged at the moment and I’m sure you’ll see the best Latrell we’ve seen for a little while.”

But Souths need only look at last season for proof Mitchell’s return can’t be treated as a magic bullet solution.

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The Rabbitohs fell into a form slump during Mitchell’s seven-game calf injury lay-off but only won two of four games after he returned, ultimately finishing the season in 9th spot.

“We can’t be relying on ‘Trell’ to win us this game,” Hornby said.

“We’ve all got to be better, that’s the reality. Latrell’s no different there, he knows he needs to be better but as a collective we need to be better. That’s what we’re working on.”

Bunker under fire for love tap

The Bunker is yet again under fire after the softest of penalty was awarded to Manly in their narrow loss to the Dolphins on Thursday night which left premiership-winning great Paul Vautin lost for words.

Dolphins skipper Jesse Bromwich was penalised after a captain’s challenge from the Sea Eagles in the second half with the score locked at 22-22 for the lightest of grazes on Tom Trbojevic’s face as he tried to wrap him up on a kick return.

Trbojevic fumbled the ball in the play-the-ball, triggering a Manly decision to challenge the incident and Bunker official Gerard Sutton pinged Bromwich for high contact which left Vauting up in arms.

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“Are you serious? Our game is finished,” Fatty said in Nine commentary. “There’s not one player in the last 116 years who would say that’s a penalty.

Paul Vautin (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

“It is finished if you are penalising that. Honestly. I bet you the bloke who made that decision has never stepped on to a football field. What a stitch-up.

“Rugby league has died tonight.

“It was embarrassing for the game,” Vautin added after the game ended with the Dolphins getting up 30-24. “There is not one player in the last 116 years who would say that’s a penalty. This little tiny hand on the face, it was absolutely nothing.

“Gerard Sutton, now he’s a very experienced referee, been around quite a while. I can’t see how he could find fault in that. That is just wrong. I can’t even talk about it, it was that bad. It was awful.”

Cook views Bennett as recipe for success at Souths

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The ingredients are in place for Wayne Bennett to become a premiership-winning coach at three different NRL clubs if he returns to South Sydney, Damien Cook says.

Bennett is all but certain to head back to the Rabbitohs next year, keeping alive the prospect of the 74-year-old winning a record-breaking title at a third NRL club.

The current Dolphins mentor has already won premierships with Brisbane and St George Illawarra, and is one shy of joining Arthur Halloway as an eight-time premiership winner.

No coach in the game’s history has won premierships at three separate clubs.

With an aging roster at the top end in South Sydney, there is an argument Bennett’s best chance of achieving that goal could come elsewhere if another job opens up.

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But No.9 Cook was adamant the last-placed Rabbitohs have the cattle to return to the top of the NRL.

“We definitely can,” Cook told AAP at the ticket launch of next week’s Beer, Footy and Food Festival at North Sydney Oval.

“Because the squad is all still there. And at the moment, there’s not a lot of luck on our side.

“We’re not making our own luck, and when it rains it pours.

“But it will turn. If you look at our best 17, we haven’t had a chance to really play that team due to injuries.”

Cook’s point is underlined by the fact that this time last year the Rabbitohs sat first on the NRL ladder and looked genuine premiership contenders.

The collapse that has followed has been one of the greatest in the sport’s history, with Souths missing the 2023 finals and last week sacking coach Jason Demetriou.

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Half of their squad is unavailable this week through injury or suspension, with Cook labelling it an “if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry situation”.

If Bennett does return to South Sydney, he is likely to find 12 players remaining from his 2021 squad that made the grand final.

Cook has no doubt the 74-year-old’s ‘magic dust’ would still produce results.

“It works everywhere he goes,” Cook said. “The Dolphins, it’s working there at the moment.

“There are players on the field that have that presence and aura about them: he’s that coach.”

Cook has come under scrutiny this season, at one point dropped back to reserve grade by Demetriou.

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The hooker said it was hard to evaluate his own form given Souths’ run of losses, while he has also battled calf and rib issues.

Contracted until the end of next year, the 32-year-old insisted he could still reach the levels he had when at his best.

“I’ve had a couple of injuries, but I’ve actually been building well,” Cook said. “Decision making down the line has been good. Defence has been getting better each week.

“I definitely can (find my best). I was feeling the fittest and strongest I have ever been in the pre-season. Body wise, I’m feeling good. I’ve still got all the confidence, I still love the game and I still want to keep trying to improve.”

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