NRL News: Struggling Latrell still in Maguire’s Blues selection mix, Slater says DCE could extend Origin career


Despite a poor season by his own high standards, Latrell Mitchell is still a chance to force his way into the NSW team for the Origin series opener.

New Blues coach Michael Maguire said at the State of Origin launch at the MCG on Tuesday that Mitchell had enough time to press his claims even though he will only get three matches before the team is announced.

Mitchell is currently serving a ban for elbowing Shaun Johnson and with Souths having the bye in Round 7, he has another two games out before he can return.

“Everyone knows the capabilities of Latrell, but it’s about making sure he is in the right headspace,” Maguire told media on Tuesday.

“At the moment, one thing I know is that in big games, you need your focus right about where you are going. Souths are going through a tough period, but Latrell has a chance to bunker down and really help the NSW team.

“He has another couple of months where he can put himself into that shape, but Origin games are up there with the biggest games of your life.

“I want to see that focus from all the players, making sure they are in a good headspace and feeling good about where they are. That helps the make-up of your team.

“We need all our guys to be playing at their best, including Latrell.”

Mitchell’s best chance would be in the centres where he starred at representative level but he faces stiff opposition from Manly star Tom Trbojevic, Newcastle’s Bradman Best who starred on debut in Origin III last year, Stephen Crichton, Kotoni Staggs and Matt Burton. 

His Souths teammate Jack Wighton could also be an option at centre with speculation swirling that he will make himself available after announcing his representative retirement last year.

Latrell Mitchell. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

Slater not concerned about finding next Maroons skipper

While Melbourne captain Harry Grant appears the likely next Queensland captain, coach Billy Slater says he has no succession plans in place for when Maroons skipper Daly Cherry-Evans calls time on his State of Origin career.

Grant appeared at Tuesday’s State of Origin launch at the MCG alongside Slater and joked he still had to win selection for the series, which starts in Sydney on June 5.

While Grant’s place in the Queensland squad is guaranteed barring injury, Slater said jerseys and leadership roles were earned rather than anointed.

“I’m not big on succession plans when it comes to representative football,” Slater said. “I think you earn the right to play in the jersey.

“There’s a number of great leaders within the Queensland State of Origin team, and to be honest, if you’re representing Queensland at this level, you’re probably a leader in some way anyway.

“So that’ll naturally take its course, that’ll naturally happen, so I don’t think it’s appropriate to go and try and create leaders as a succession plan.”

Cherry-Evans took over in 2019 from another Melbourne hooking great, Cameron Smith, when he stepped back from representative football.

Queensland have won three of the five series since, and will be hunting their third successive title this year.

He might be 35, but halfback Cherry-Evans has been in vintage form this season, steering Manly into the top eight, so Slater said he didn’t have to think about a replacement any time soon.

“I don’t think Daly’s giving it away any time soon, he’s playing some great footy,” the coach said.

“He’s doing a great job for Manly, and his performance is his key attribute.

“That’s the number one trait of a great leader, their performance in their position.”

Asked what his own future held, Slater quickly ruled out the Melbourne Storm coaching job should Craig Bellamy carry through on his yearly threat to retire.

Slater said the Maroons job had given him unexpected “fulfilment”.

“I’ve always had a drive to be as good as I possibly can in whatever I do, whether it’s playing, coaching,  my commentary role – I plan and prepare for that,” he said.

“I’ve always had a self-drive, but I don’t really have any set goals on what I want to achieve as a coach.

“I’m really enjoying helping this group be as good as they can … it’s given me a fulfilment that I probably didn’t realise it would give me.

“Just how proud I am of a group of people that go out and achieve something and actually helping them do that, become the best that they can be.

“The people who we’re representing are so important and that’s not lost to these players, so helping them do that is certainly an honour.” 

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