Latrell Mitchell (centre).
Latrell Mitchell (c) was in the thick of everything as South Sydney overcame Brisbane on Friday. Image by Dan Himbrechts/AAP PHOTOS
  • rugby league

Latrell looms large as Maguire mulls NSW changes

Scott Bailey June 15, 2024

Michael Maguire’s solution to save NSW’s State of Origin campaign may have spent Saturday staring him in the face, after Latrell Mitchell put his hand up for a Blues return.

Maguire will on Sunday night name his side for Origin II at the MCG, following a nervous wait through the afternoon’s two NRL games.

The Blues coach has had a good start to his weekend, with Cameron Murray getting through his return for South Sydney against Brisbane unscathed.

Fellow back-rowers Liam Martin and Haumole Olakau’atu have also been cleared to play for their sides on Sunday.

And Dylan Edwards has been named as a certain starter for Penrith against Newcastle on Sunday as he fights to win back the No.1 jersey from James Tedesco.

It is thought Maguire could make as many as five changes from game one, with decisions to also be made in the halves and over whether a utility comes onto the bench.

But no call will garner as much attention as what Maguire does with Mitchell, and whether he picks him to replace the suspended Joseph-Aukuso Suaalii at centre.

Mitchell spent Saturday alongside Maguire at South Sydney’s 2014 premiership reunion, posing for photos with the NSW coach and publicly declaring he wants to play Origin.

The pair posed for jovial photos for South Sydney’s social media page, while Mitchell shared one on his own story with the caption: “We on?”

Mitchell could not have made a more compelling case on the field on Friday night, when he was involved in everything in South Sydney’s 22-12 win over Brisbane.

The Souths No.1 also picked up a contrary-conduct charge out of the match for inciting a melee after an illegal Jordan Riki hit, but can avoid a ban by accepting a $3000 fine. 

Latrell Mitchell.
 Latrell Mitchell made a compelling case for a Blues recall with an all-action show against Brisbane. Image by Dan Himbrechts/AAP PHOTOS 

The 26-year-old has not played Origin since 2021 due to injuries, but is favoured to beat out Bradman Best, Jesse Ramien and Kotoni Staggs to return to the Blues team.

“The opinion of Latrell hasn’t changed inside our four walls. If I was (selecting the side) I would pick him straight away,” Souths No.6 Cody Walker said. 

“Because he’s just got that aura about him. He’s got that presence. I wouldn’t want to defend against him if I was playing at centre.”

Walker is only an outside chance of returning at five-eighth, after a calf injury ruled last year’s player-of-the-match in Origin III out of the 2024 series opener.

Maguire will mull over calling the fit-again Mitch Moses into the halves, and whether to keep Nicho Hynes or Jarome Luai next to him at No.6.

“I’m sure every player that’s in contention would certainly put their hand up if they were selected or got that phone call,” Walker said. 

“I’ve always said I’m available if they need me. I love the Blues. I bleed blue. Been to Origin since I was eight, nine or 10.”

Cameron Murray.
 Cameron Murray (centre) is in the frame for NSW for Origin II. Image by Mark Evans/AAP PHOTOS 

Murray is South Sydney’s other chance for NSW, confident his body would be able to get through the rigours of Origin after five weeks out with a hip injury.

If Maguire was to bring Murray straight back in, it would likely be at the expense of Cameron McInnes, Olakau’atu or Hudson Young.

Any of that trio could also be vulnerable if Maguire opts for a utility on the bench in the form of Matt Burton, Connor Watson or Siosifa Talakai.