‘That NSW jersey is mine’: Mitchell sends reminder to Burton in brutal display

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‘That NSW jersey is mine’: Mitchell sends reminder to Burton in brutal display

By Adam Pengilly
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Brad Fittler, if he was still up to watching the last game of the NRL round, at the end of a week in which NSW surrendered the State of Origin shield, might just be coming out of the foetal position.

For all the reasons the Blues lost a series many thought they were just going to win, there’s one which might just stand above the rest: Latrell Mitchell.

Would it have been different at Suncorp Stadium, in one of the greatest rugby league matches ever played, had the South Sydney superstar been wearing sky blue? It’s hard to say no. Would Dane Gagai dared unload a flurry of punches on say Mitchell, instead of Matt Burton? Certainly not.

As for the rightful home of the NSW left centre spot: Mitchell or Burton?

“I told you that three jersey is mine,” Mitchell said after steering the Rabbitohs to a late 36-28 win over the Bulldogs at Accor Stadium on Sunday night.

“I just wanted to go out tonight to prove I’m here to play footy and enjoy that and keep ticking boxes for the South Sydney Rabbitohs. Things will come with that.

Latrell Mitchell charges through the Bulldogs defence.

Latrell Mitchell charges through the Bulldogs defence.Credit:Getty

“Big credit to the lad [Burton], he had to back up from Origin. It was a big, tough game. It was the hardest decision I’ve had to make personally [withdrawing from contention]. I didn’t want to be selfish in that space. I really wanted to turn up tonight and prove a point.

“It was hard to watch, but Jai Arrow is my teammate and I was glad he got the win too.”

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On a night where Mitchell scored one of the most scintillating solo tries of the season, shoving good mate Josh Addo-Carr out of the way at the end of a brutal 40-metre surge, the Rabbitohs edged a little closer to a top eight spot against a plucky Bulldogs side.

And it was everything good about Mitchell, and just a bit of the bad.

He threw one of those passes that only comes naturally to the most gifted for Junior Tatola to level the scores late in the game, and also clipped Addo-Carr across the face which led to a Bulldogs try.

But the sight of Mitchell galloping past Bulldogs defenders after a Kodi Nikorima offload, intent on destroying anyone in his path, was one of the most glorious, and scariest, sights for any rugby league fan.

Missing NSW regulars Cameron Murray and Damien Cook, Mitchell also threw the final pass for the match-winning try five minutes from full-time as Alex Johnston bagged another Accor Stadium hat-trick. Mitchell didn’t even need to look where his winger was. The field goal would have been the logical option, but Mitchell had other ideas.

Said South Sydney coach Jason Demetriou: “With no Cam and Cooky, we needed Latrell and Cody to stand up. They both came up with some pretty big plays to set the tries up. Again, that’s what you want from your leaders. They keep standing up and if they keep doing that we’ll be in a good place come finals.”

Declan Casey scores for the Bulldogs.

Declan Casey scores for the Bulldogs.Credit:Getty

For a long part of the game, the Bulldogs looked like delivering a huge blow to South Sydney’s finals hopes and led into the last 10 minutes when Paul Vaughan bagged a rare try. They even managed to score a 90-metre screamer when Declan Casey burst downfield before Jake Averillo raced over.

But that only fuelled Mitchell into action as South Sydney scored three tries inside the final 10 minutes, and injury was added to insult for the Bulldogs when Addo-Carr limped off with a glute problem in the second half.

There was a game on Good Friday when Trent Barrett was still coaching the struggling Bulldogs when they looked like taking it to South Sydney, and then Jeremy Marshall-King was sin-binned and that was that.

Three months on, and interim coach Mick Potter has injected a lot more steel into a club slowly clawing its way from the bottom of the ladder.

Latrell Mitchell was in rare form against the Bulldogs.

Latrell Mitchell was in rare form against the Bulldogs.Credit:Getty

Burton was flattered by an Instagram note from Mitchell last month when the South Sydney superstar implored NSW selectors to keep the superboot in the team for game three, before withdrawing himself.

This time, Burton was just flattened by Mitchell. It wasn’t the same haymakers Gagai unleashed on him during the wild Origin decider, Mitchell just lining up the Bulldogs five-eighth and barrelling straight over him, with a few choice words on the end of it.

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It was the highlight of a first half which started with South Sydney halfback Lachlan Ilias, wearing a black armband in honour of his grandfather Spyros, kicking for himself to open the scoring as the Rabbitohs led 16-10 at half-time.

Then it was the Latrell show.

“He’s awesome, isn’t he? He can play,” Potter said. “He’s one of the best. I think we need to still improve quicker and if you’re still losing games, it’s not enough. I think there’s more in this team. I think we can get there, but the season is running short of games. We need to get a victory here and there.”

If only Fittler could have had Mitchell to help with the same.

SOUTH SYDNEY RABBITOHS 36 (Alex Johnston 3, Lachlan Ilias, Cody Walker, Latrell Mitchell, Junior Tatola tries; Mitchell 4 goals) defeated CANTERBURY BULLDOGS 28 (Braidon Burns, Declan Casey, Joe Stimson, Jake Averillo, Paul Vaughan tries; Matt Burton 4 goals) at Accor Stadium. Referee: Chris Butler. Crowd: 19,126.

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