NRL News: Playmaker told he can leave as Souths make Demetriou call, young Shark trades in tools for shot at big time


South Sydney have given Lachlan Ilias permission to look elsewhere, as the NRL confirmed it had the power to block any attempt by Latrell Mitchell to skip State of Origin.

In what looms as a crucial week for the Rabbitohs, general manager Mark Ellison has flown to England to finalise a deal with St Helens halfback Lewis Dodd for next year.

That has had immediate flow-on effects, with the Rabbitohs granting permission for Ilias to look elsewhere for 2025.

Dropped after two rounds this year, Ilias broke his leg while playing reserve grade this month.

But after being prioritised as South Sydney’s long-term halfback over Adam Reynolds two and a half years ago, it is unlikely he will see out the final year of his contract in 2025.

“I spoke to (Souths CEO) Blake Solly over the weekend, because I was (wondering) where it leaves Lachy,” Ilias’s manager Braith Anasta said on NRL 360. “I sent him a formal email this morning asking for permission to negotiate with other clubs, and received one back by lunchtime. So he is free to negotiate with other clubs.”

Anasta said he had received low-level interest, but expected that to ramp up now the 23-year-old was officially available. “There are a lot of teams that could do with a half at the moment,” he said.

“I see it as a relief, because he hasn’t developed the way he should have there. Of course he is hurt, but he is such an amazing kid. He’s disappointed because he loves the joint and has given his heart and soul to the joint. He didn’t see it coming.”

Tuesday also shapes as a crucial day for under-fire coach Jason Demetriou, with the monthly Souths board meeting scheduled for the morning. The Rabbitohs’ 1-6 start to the season is their worst in 16 years, with the club facing a battle to recover and make finals.

Demetriou was given more time after his side’s gutsy defeat to Cronulla this month, but Souths backed that up with a 54-20 drubbing at the hands of Melbourne on Anzac Day.

Mitchell has reportedly considered making himself unavailable for Origin in a bid to help rebuild the Rabbitohs’ season.

Lachlan Ilias. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

But there is a potential hurdle in the form of the NRL’s rules.

Speaking hypothetically given there has been no request from Mitchell, NRL officials confirmed to AAP on Monday that players are contractually obliged to make themselves available for selection.

Clubs must also release players if picked.

Some exemptions are allowed. Kalyn Ponga pulled out for Queensland last year on medical grounds, after an extended period out of action following repeated concussions.

South Sydney centre Jack Wighton has also made himself unavailable, but that only came after a permanent retirement.

But neither of those circumstances are likely to apply to Mitchell, if he does push to make himself unavailable.

The Rabbitohs fullback has missed the past two matches through suspension, but will return in round 10, well before Michael Maguire picks his side for Origin I on June 5.

Mitchell did not feature in NSW’s back-to-back series losses, but was selected at centre when last fit for Origin in 2021.

The NRL is not concerned that skipping Origin would become a wider trend, with match payments of $30,000 per game.

But they are also well aware of the importance of the series to the game’s financial bottom line.

NRL bosses therefore remain firmly of the view that the game’s best players should feature in Origin, not least because of the broadcast revenue it generates. 

Atkinson learning NRL trade

After managing just one appearance off the bench in an abortive maiden season with Melbourne, Daniel Atkinson feared his NRL dream might be over as soon as it had begun.

The Queensland-born playmaker was released by the Storm at the end of 2021 and returned to his home state, where he busied himself in a trade.

Atkinson was mixing carpentry with playing for the Sunshine Coast Falcons when he took a call from Cronulla coach Craig Fitzgibbon and the club’s general manager of football Darren Mooney.

“I haven’t looked back,” he said.

The 23-year-old admits there were “definitely” times he thought a future as a professional rugby league player had passed him by.

“Going to work at 6.30 and then going to train, I’m like, ‘Geez it’s getting tough’,” he said.

“But boys do it their whole life.”

Despite playing in all three of Italy’s group games at the 2022 Rugby League World Cup, Atkinson – who qualifies for the European nation through his mother – had to wait until Sunday’s crushing victory over Canberra for his first NRL start.

He was called into Sharks squad at late notice to fill the unfamiliar five-eighth role vacated by Braydon Trindall, who was sidelined after his midweek drink-driving charges.

While Atkinson failed to trouble the scorers, the debutant proved a more than capable sidekick for his red-hot halves partner Nicho Hynes.

The pair dovetailed well as the ladder-leading Sharks cruised to a 40-0 victory.

Hynes was scintillating – scoring two tries, assisting three more and breaking five tackles – while Atkinson was organised, error-free.

“He kept it simple. That was the role we had for him,” coach Fitzgibbon said after the match.

“He got his kicking game when needed. He managed to find some runs out of nowhere, he almost poked his nose through the line a couple of times.

Sharks continue to carve up! ???? #NRLRaidersSharks @telstra Moment of the Match

— NRL (@NRL) April 28, 2024

“But to walk into a team in the space of a week and find some connection with Nicho, I thought that was pretty impressive.”

Atkinson and Hynes overlapped while at the Storm during 2021.

“When I first came to the Sharks, he was the first bloke I knew so we’ve got a good connection,” Atkinson said.

With the stood-down Trindall potentially set for a lengthy stint on the sidelines, Fitzgibbon said Atkinson had done enough to make the role his own.

The rookie halfback is eager to make the most of his opportunity, even as he continues to work on his carpentry skills outside the game.

“I’m trying to get TAFE started, just doing a bit of theory here and there when I’ve got some time off,” he said.

with AAP

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