Souths coach Jason Demetriou uttered three words to indicate whether returning superstar Latrell Mitchell would be ready for Origin III.
Souths coach Jason Demetriou says he would pick the returning Rabbitoh Latrell Mitchell for the State of Origin decider even though Saturday’s game against Parramatta will be his first in nearly three months.
Mitchell went close to being player of the series in 2021, only to be pipped by the brilliance of centre partner Tom Trbojevic.
But it would be a huge call for NSW coach Brad Fittler to rush him back in after just one game, especially given how well rookie Matt Burton performed at left centre in Perth last Sunday night.
“I’d pick him,” Demetriou said at a sodden Redfern Oval on Friday.
“He’s too good a player. I’m not going to be disappointed if they don’t, but if I was him (Fittler), I’d pick him.
“It’s not up to me now. He’s fit to play so he’ll go out there and he’ll show what he’s able to do and then it’ll be up to ‘Freddy’ (Fittler) and the NSW selectors to decide whether they want him in the team.
“From our perspective, he’s fit to play.”
Mitchell will make his much-hyped return after hamstring and knee issues forced him to spend time in the US to get his body right after a couple of injury-plagued season.
He was meant to be back a bit earlier but that was delayed after he contracted Covid-19 when he returned to Australia.
“He’s done a great job over the past 10-12 weeks to get into the shape that he’s in,” Demetriou said.
The expectation is that the 25-year-old will come straight in and rejuvenate a South Sydney side that is stinging from a hefty loss to the Dragons before the representative round bye.
But Demetriou said his star fullback wasn’t the magic elixir, and that it was up to the rest of the team to help Souths kick clear of the logjam at the bottom of the top eight.
“I just spoke to him then and I told him that he’s in a lot better shape than in round 2 when he first came back. We’re excited to have him back, but we’ve got to perform 1-17. You can’t go out there hoping that Latrell’s the saviour,” he said.
“There are no expectations from us. We understand that it’s going to take a few weeks to get back to his best, but it’s a start.
“He’s got a role to play so I don’t want him going out there expecting to be the bloke that’s going to turn everything around.
“He’s got to do his job, and he will. He knows his job. He gives energy to the team, and his presence alone will do enough. There’s no expectation on him to do everything.”
It remains unclear whether Mitchell will play the entire 80 minutes on Saturday night on what will be a very greasy surface considering how much rain is expected to fall this weekend.
“Rubbing my crystal ball, who knows? I have no idea, to be honest,” said Demetriou, whose side sits four points behind the Eels.
“A lot will depend on how the game goes. If we respect possession, control the footy and play on our terms, then that will obviously help. If we’re defending 12 sets in a row and blokes are backing up from Origin, it makes life tough, and it would for anyone coming back from injury.
“Every game is important for the rest of the season. This 80 minutes is the next 80 minutes.
“We need to value that and we need to make it the most important 80 minutes of our week. If we do that then we put ourselves in with a chance.”
Originally published as ‘I’d pick him’: Souths coach Jason Demetriou on Latrell Mitchell’s State of Origin chances