Latrell Mictehll
Latrell Mitchell (l) was keen to enjoy NSW camp but anticipation is high for his Origin return. Image by Dan Himbrechts/AAP PHOTOS
  • rugby league

Legacy on the line as Latrell braces for Origin return

George Clarke June 24, 2024

Latrell Mitchell has always had an uncomfortable relationship with the spotlight.

So when it was put to him last week on his return to the NSW State of Origin squad that he was being tasked with saving the series, the Blues centre shrugged it off. 

“That’s what you (the media) are saying,” Mitchell quipped. 

“I’m just going to have fun, play and enjoy myself.

“I appreciate it (being called the saviour), honestly I do.  

“But if I put pressure on myself then I’ll focus on that all week and my preparation will go out the window.”

Mitchell
 The Maroons will have strong memories of the Origin havoc Latrell Mitchell has wreaked. Image by Darren England/AAP PHOTOS 

That response gave an insight into the world Mitchell lives in, where the microscope is intensely focused on his every word, every effort, every play.

And try as he might to dismiss his billing as a NSW’s hero-in-waiting, there is no doubt that come Wednesday night at the MCG all eyes will be on Mitchell.

Down 1-0 and needing to win to send the series to a decider in Brisbane on July 17, Mitchell looms as the man to carry the Blues to victory.

As Mitchell watched Queensland claim the last two series from his couch, NSW could only look on wishing they had the man made for the big occasion. 

Mitchell was the man who bullied the bully that was Will Chambers in 2018 and made Queensland superhero Dane Gagai look like a mere mortal in 2021. 

Mitchell
 Mitchell and Queensland hero Dane Gagai went head to head in 2021. Image by Darren England/AAP PHOTOS 

“Latrell has got the ability to make everyone else confident around him with what he brings,” said Blues forward Isaah Yeo. 

Mitchell hasn’t played for NSW since 2021 and his absence has only meant that the lore of Latrell Mitchell the Origin player has grown with each passing year.

“It’s gangster (when you can just throw him the ball)… I’ve obviously had some success with him in this jersey,” said NSW five-eighth Jarome Luai. 

“I was really excited when he got named and really excited that he was excited to come in and play his best gameā€¦. He has that aura about him, he’s made for Origin.”

Mitchell
 Mitchell shows why he describes Origin as his arena. Image by Darren England/AAP PHOTOS 

Mitchell is still just 27.

But with the stakes so high and the Blues needing a hero to stop the Maroons, this feels like a legacy-defining game for a centre who can conjure something out of nothing.

Mitchell has only played seven Origin games and never lost a series.

His very presence fills those around him with confidence to stand taller.

“He’s a big-game player, I’ve played in a grand final, Origins, a World Cup with him,” said Blues back-rower Angus Crichton.  

“He knows what it takes, he’s a freak and the kind of player you want in your team.” 

Mitchell has kept a low profile since his return to the Blues set-up, doing just one set of interviews before being excused from media commitments.

There is a sense that Blues coach Michael Maguire is keen for Mitchell to let his football do the talking, downplaying questions about the South Sydney’s star’s aura. 

“Latrell is one of 17 boys who will bring that, I just want Latrell to be himself and play footy because that’s what he’s really good at,” Maguire said. 

Mitchell
 Mitchell gets past Xavier Coates in game two in 2021. Image by Darren England/AAP PHOTOS 

Despite leaving him out of his game one squad, Maguire kept in contact with Mitchell.

He would know from their conversations that the Rabbitohs No.1 has endured a testing relationship with his state.

When he and Cody Walker were dropped from Brad Fittler’s Blues squad after game one in 2019, Mitchell claimed that “NSW went real funny on us because we (Indigenous players) don’t sing the (national) anthem”.

For a man who can appear so brash and confident, there is another side to Mitchell where he feels he needs protection and care from his coach.

It is perhaps why Mitchell has played his best football under Wayne Bennett but also speaks to the binary world through which he is viewed. 

Mitchell is criticised for his workrate as a fullback at club level with South Sydney, but then lauded for coming up with a miracle play.

He is built up as a star of the game but then told to stay in his lane when he dares to use his voice. 

Latrell
 NSW fans will hope for more of this on Wednesday night. Image by Darren England/AAP PHOTOS 

At times over the last year, his form, his fitness and his desire to play for NSW – or even continue in the NRL for that matter – have been questioned.  

But all of that will go out of the window if he can help save the Blues and level the series at the MCG. 

“I deserve to be here, it’s my arena,” Mitchell claimed last week.

If he can deliver for Maguire, there will be little doubting that.