Phil Rothfield believes South Sydney may need to explore Latrell Mitchell’s return to center after criticizing his fitness in Souths’ preliminary final loss to the Panthers.
Speaking on Sky Sports radio, Rothfield compared Mitchell’s involvement to his Panthers fullback counterpart Dylan Edwards and wondered if Latrell had the gas to play the most physically demanding position on the pitch.
“There was a lot of media talk about Latrell Mitchell’s match for Souths and the Daily Telegraph gave him a 4.5 out of 10, while Dylan Edwards got a 9,” Rothfield said on Sky radio. The Big Sports Lunch.
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“I did some stats today and compared Latrell to Edwards. Latrell only ran 55 yards and Edwards ran 248. Mitchell had seven points and Edwards had 25.
“I was a little disappointed with Latrell, but I don’t want to sack him because they wouldn’t have made it to the final without him.
“But apart from the stats, he also threw a few bad passes that were unnecessary and put his teammates under pressure.
“He was also a little off guard in defense. But you have your nights off and he picked the wrong night to have his.
Fox League’s Corey Parker also questioned Mitchell’s fitness after struggling to stay involved in the game as the Panthers came back from 12-0 up early to win by 20.
“It was 18-12, three full sets of six, he didn’t touch the ball, and they backed off and couldn’t find the right option,” Parker said.
“For me it’s fitness, Latrell was separated to the point where he couldn’t be able to put in effort after effort.
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“He wasn’t able to put himself where he needed to be, if he was fit enough he would be there.
“There was a period in that second half where Latrell Mitchell didn’t touch the ball, wasn’t seen, didn’t touch the ball for three sets of six.
“You’re playing a preliminary final, you need your big stars to touch the ball, there’s no next week, it’s a big final if you want to go and take it.”
Sky Sports’ Michael Clarke is not sold on Mitchell as a fullback and believes the center is his best place in rugby league.
“I’m not convinced . . . if we say he’s in his best shape now,” Clarke said.
“I’m still not convinced watching the other night that he’s fit enough to play at fullback.
“I think he’s a better center than a full-back.”
Clarke thinks too many players want to play at fullback for the financial rewards of the position saying “it’s all about the money”.
Clarke pointed out that Mal Meninga played center all his career and became the best.
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Rothfield agreed that Mitchell is better suited at center and could play a floating role similar to Valentine Holmes at the Cowboys in an effort to get him more of the ball than your average center.
“That’s a really good point and when he first joined the Roosters I kept saying he was a center,” Rothfield said.
“It doesn’t use as much gas. He can be more explosive when taking the ball.
“And they can design plays around Cody Walker to give him the ball more than the regular center.
“But I think Wayne Bennett proved us all wrong and stuck with him at the back.
“He hasn’t had a problem with his essence in other games.
“I think maybe that shot from Leota took more from him than we thought.”
Laurie Daley believes the effects of Leota’s massive blow in the first half had a big impact on Mitchell’s ability to stay in the competition.
“I thought it shook him up,” Daley said.
“I still think he needs to work on his fitness if you want to play at the back.
“But I think the fact that he was shaken pushed him back a bit. I think he was really feeling the effects of that blow.
Rothfield was asked if he still thinks Mitchell is a $2 million player after his lackluster performance against the Panthers.
“When I said he was a $2 million player and people got it wrong, I never suggested it was in the salary cap,” Rothfield said.
“He is as influential to his club as any other player in the competition and the fact that he played mediocre the other night illustrated that.
“I think he rated a 4.5, but I’m sure they wouldn’t even have been there in the final if he hadn’t been in good shape after coming back from America.
“I don’t know if he was wearing anything because the week before I don’t think he was at his best against Cronulla either.
“But I’m sticking with the $2m because I think he’s the biggest thing in rugby league as a personality. As a turnstile clicker. As a person who gets you on the TV to watch her.
“He’s the greatest since Sonny Bill Williams. That’s just my opinion.
Daley believes Mitchell’s personality is driving his earning potential, but thinks he can offer a lot more as a player on the pitch.
“I think his personality is what drives everything,” Daley said.
“If you just want to judge him on football performance, you look at him and go, he can give us a lot more than he’s giving us right now.
“I want to see Latrell do more in a game because I’m excited about the things he does because he does things other players can’t do.
“But he’s a different type of player than a Dylan Edwards or a James Tedesco.
“He’s just not that work-rate type player. But if you give him a lot of possession inside the attacking zone, he delivers play after play that confuses the opposing defense and that’s what makes him so good.
Clarke has criticized the media for building up Mitchell so much as to heavily criticize him when he fails to live up to their unrealistic standards.
“I can’t believe we’re having this conversation,” Clarke said.
“Let’s build it right away and let it believe its own press and then it has a bad performance and you’re going to get completely smoked.
“He’s getting whipped right now. It’s because the media has been constructing him for the past couple of months as if he’s the greatest player to ever play football. He is not.
“That’s what the media does. We see it all the time. You build it so much and now we have media for the next two weeks to bag it.
Rothfield thinks Souths could look to move Mitchell if he has a dominating World Cup for the Kangaroos in the middle.
“I think we’ll have a really good example at the World Cup where he’ll play in the centre, with Tedesco at the back,” Rothfield said.
“We’re going to have a very good indication in England with Latrell playing in the center where he doesn’t use as much gas throughout the game.
“Maybe that’s something Souths will look at next year.”