Latrell Mitchell has often been accused of being hot-headed on the footy field, but it’s a noticeable change in the superstar fullback that outsmarted the Roosters in Sunday’s fiery elimination final.
Mitchell has had a testy relationship with the Chooks since leaving the club three years ago to join the Burrow. A reckless high tackle on Joey Manu late last season made him public enemy No.1 with anyone wearing a Tricolors shirt.
Fireworks were promised when the two arch rivals met in round 25, and they were delivered.
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So when the Roosters and Rabbitohs met again a week later in a do-or-die blockbuster at Allianz Stadium, it went without saying tensions would be high – and on Sunday they boiled over.
Seven players were sin-binned – an NRL record – and 15 penalties were dished out as the hatred between the two foundation clubs erupted on the field.
But amid the chaos one player managed to keep his cool.
“You have to keep your head while those around you are losing theirs – and that’s what Latrell Mitchell did,” Phil Gould told Wide World of Sports’ Six Tackles with Gus podcast.
“He concentrated on the football and he was the difference between the two sides.
“There was no one on the Roosters side concentrating on football. And they didn’t need to do what they did physically in that game to beat South Sydney, they had the football smarts to beat them.
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“The Rabbitohs had a number of sin-bins themselves, both sides were retaliating.”
While Mitchell gave away one penalty, he generally avoided the chaos and was not one of the seven binnings handed down by referee Ashley Klein for foul play.
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The Roosters hoped to take advantage of Mitchell’s famously short fuse and repeatedly went after the South Sydney No.1, but the tactic backfired.
“They went into the game with the completely wrong mentality. They had to go out and out-football South Sydney on that day,” Gould said of the Roosters, who lost the elimination final 30-14.
“I reckon they made a big mistake the week before playing the way they did, and then tried to replicate that in the first 20 minutes this week, South Sydney was ready for it.
“But there was no football common sense to what they were doing. And they admitted it after the game.
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“If you think you’ve got to intimidate teams out of finals and Origins it’s not going to happen. You don’t physically intimidate people out of those types of games.
“You’ve got to out-football them, you’ve got to out-strategise them.”
In the past fortnight Mitchell has spoken openly with media about his improved mental state, which he credits in part to a mid-season trip to America.
South Sydney sent him to the States to get a dodgy hamstring fixed, but the enigmatic superstar returned home with more than strengthened ligaments to show for it.
“I took a lot from it – confidence… arrogance, some people say,” Mitchell said on Tuesday.
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“I really enjoy the American culture, the way they talk, and I took a lot from that.”
If he is more arrogant than he was before, he’s certainly less hot-headed on the field.
And it’s paying dividends. The two-time premiership player is arguably in career-best form and now holds the key to a Rabbitohs run at a second consecutive grand final.
They next take on the Sharks on Saturday night for a place in the preliminary finals.
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