South Sydney are muddling over whether to move Latrell Mitchell out of the No. 1 jersey, but calls to replace him there with star recruit Jack Wighton have been called “absolute madness”.
Foxsports.com.au columnist Alex McKinnon was the first to call for the Rabbitohs to move Mitchell into the halves next season and play Wighton at fullback.
Under pressure coach Jason Demetriou is trying to work out how to get Mitchell more involved in the game after the club’s disastrous end to the season.
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Souths sat first on the ladder after Round 11 but lost nine of their next 13 games to bundle out of the top eight and miss finals.
Their final round loss to arch rivals the Sydney Roosters came a week after Rabbitohs legend Sam Burgess walked out on the club where he’d been working as assistant under Demetriou.
Burgess said standards had slipped with Mitchell and fellow star player Cody Walker receiving preferential treatment from Demetriou.
The NRL 360 panel said on Tuesday night that moving Mitchell would be a “band aid” solution that would fix their “deep seeded” problems.
“It would be absolute madness in my book. They’ve bought Jack Wighton to play centre, they’re paying $800,000, they’ve got Campbell Graham, they’ve got Isaiah Tass,” Paul Crawley said.
“If you want to move Latrell there then put Jack back at fullback, well Jack is 31. It would just make absolutely no sense and it would show up the fact they’ve got their recruitment wrong because if you’re buying Jack to play centre, you’re not buying him to play fullback.”
Braith Anasta agreed and emphasised football ability was not the problem at the club and instead pointed to a mindset that has “gone way off track”.
“It’s not the solution. Whether people think he’s a centre or a fullback, vice versa, the solution is not moving him from fullback to centre. The team isn’t going to be any better with the players they’ve got there if they do that,” Anasta said.
“It must be deep seeded there, coming first after Round 11 then finishing the way that they did… when they were coming first everyone was talking about this is the year of the Rabbit, so it’s not their footy ability that’s cost them.
“It’s whatever is happening inside those four walls, and psychologically the mindset of the players has just gone way off track.”
Crawley then called for “dramatic changes” at the club in the wake of the Burgess saga.
“You can’t beat around the bush, this season has been the biggest disappointment not just this year but easily the last decade, Souths missing out on the finals,” he said.
“What happened with Sam Burgess… Sam wasn’t happy with certain standards that he believes weren’t being met there then two weeks out from the finals he gets kicked out of the door.
“That doesn’t fix the problem, that doesn’t fix anything. You think you put a bandaid on you’ve solved the problem, you haven’t.”
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“He was actually trying to highlight what was going wrong there, he spotted it months ago and he was highlighting the standards had dropped and they were heading down a bad path and it’s not going to get better,” Anasta responded.
Crawley then doubled down and said when Wayne Bennett was coaching the club that Latrell Mitchell was the best fullback in the NRL.
“So if they were to move Latrell because they think there’s less workload and that’s a better move, well let’s be fair dinkum there too, when Wayne Bennett initially moved Latrell to fullback there was a lot of criticism and a lot of people thought it wouldn’t work but it bloody did work and it worked wonders,” he said.
“Until Wayne was gone, Latrell was playing the house down. Was he not the most dangerous player in the competition?
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“All this has happened this year and it’s coincided with Sam saying standards aren’t being met. They’ve got to face up to the fact they’re hiding from the truth and they’ve got to confront the truth.”
Gordon Tallis added: “If Latrell plays centre and puts his mind to it, he’s the best centre in the game. If Latrell plays fullback and puts his mind to it he’s the best fullback in the game. The road they should go down is: Latrell, where do you think you’re going to play your best footy?”
“He needs to realise how amazing he is and the impact he can have not only on Souths but the whole competition. He’s got that much natural ability,” Anasta said.