The weighty issues to come out of Latrell move
Wayne Bennett labelled Latrell Mitchell's signature at South Sydney as the club's biggest signing coup in over a decade.
The Rabbitohs announced the Sydney Roosters superstar Mitchell had agreed to a one-year deal with an option in season 2021 on Monday afternoon.
Bennett compared the recruitment to that of Sam Burgess and Greg Inglis back in 2009 and 2011 respectively.
"It's probably as big as when [South Sydney] signed Sam Burgess and Greg Inglis nearly a decade ago. He's a huge player for us to have here, particularly at his age. He's won two premierships, he's played for his country and State of Origin. His best football is still in front of him," Bennett said.
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The opportunity Mitchell was chasing is a chance to play at a club where he could make a permanent switch from centre to fullback. With James Tedesco, the Dally M Player of the Year, firmly owning the spot at the Roosters, Mitchell was forced to look elsewhere. He is determined to wear the No.1 jumper in round one.
"Go back 24 months when I started in the centre and I had never played centre … that sort of answers the question. I look forward to the challenge, that's all I am worried about," he said.
"I've always come up as a fullback, I was never a centre. The potential to play fullback again is exciting."
Bennett backed his prized recruit.
"He'd never played centre before and he made himself one of the best in that position. I'm sure if his preferred position is fullback he isn't going to struggle making that his own. I love to see in a fullback and he's got them," he said.
Mitchell has eight weeks to reach the required fitness levels to handle the workload required as a modern day fullback. He admitted to "letting his hair down" over Christmas but is ready to return to full-time training.
"Do I look fit? I'm in a large shirt, so I'm happy with that," he said with a laugh.
"Wayne said 7.30 in the morning. I haven't woken up at 7.30 in a while. It's going to be a hard one, but a few coffees here will be all right.
"I did a bit of training and my dad was hassling me to do a bit more."
Mitchell's fullback ambitions have created a back five conundrum for Bennett. Rising star Adam Doueihi made the No.1 jumper his own over the back end of season 2019 but he now faces a pre-season battle with Mitchell to keep his spot.
"There will be [speculation] and it will be a hard decision, some of those younger boys played some great football for us. But in the end we couldn't walk past the opportunity to take Latrell. This club is about success and we want to have the best team we possibly can and he is going to add to what we already have."
GREG INGLIS COMPARISONS
The constant comparisons to Inglis never really sat well with Mitchell and are only likely to increase now he is a Rabbitoh himself. But the youngster is determined to make his own mark at Redfern, separate to the legacy Inglis left behind.
"Greg and I are different people. Obviously his calibre of footy he has played, he has proved it.
"That's what I am here to do, I'm here to prove myself. Greg has left a great legacy for himself and that's what I'm here to do for myself. I'm not in the shadow of anyone," he said.
Keen Rabbitohs fans gathered at Redfern to get a glimpse of Mitchell in Rabbitohs colours for the first time, hoping to get a signature or photo with the superstar. The encounter with fans left Mitchell "humbled" and eager to grow his stature as a role model in the indigenous community.
"Four years ago I was still in high school and I didn't know whether I wanted to play NRL or not. Just for everyone in the indigenous community and the non indigenous community too … but especially what the Rabbitohs do for the indigenous community, it's really empowering.
"That's the powerful message I want to send about being indigenous and being proud and being proud in this country. The only way is up for us now," he said.
Rabbitohs' general manager of football, Shane Richardson, confirmed the club still has enough salary cap space to sign Gold Coast forward Jai Arrow for season 2020. But the two clubs are still negotiating a possible release and player swap.
"We're still trying to get Jai down this year. A lot of people misunderstood that signing Latrell would have an effect on Arrow, it doesn't at all. A lot of clubs thought that, like blood in the water, the sharks are circling. But that's up to the Gold Coast," Richardson said.